Mariana de Araujo Ferraz is the Brazil Country Coordinator for the Global Health Advocacy Incubator’s Obesity Prevention Program.
What does your job entail, and what has been the most rewarding part?
MDAF: In my role, I assist partner organizations in their mission to advocate for healthy food policies in Brazil. I think the most rewarding part of this job is being in a position where I can help build bridges and enhance collaboration and learning around the main steps and strategies to achieve our common policy goals.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an in-country coordinator so far?
MDAF: We face many challenges when we advocate for the advancement of policies that reduce the demand for unhealthy food products, such as sugary drinks or ultra-processed foods high in fat, sugar, or sodium. The biggest challenge we consistently face is interference from the Big Food industry against the development of the most cost-effective, evidence-based policies that can prevent the growth of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases. In Brazil, Big Food corporations disguised as food associations position themselves against regulations such as front-of-package warning labels on unhealthy food products, or sugary drinks taxes.
What has been your favorite project or campaign so far?
MDAF: One of my favorite projects is the “labeling tents” campaign developed by our partners Idec and ACT. These are street activities where our partners interact face-to-face with the population, expose the problem of lack of information on food products, and present civil society’s solution for the regulation of food labels. This past year, the labeling tents traveled to schools where they were coordinated by teenage students. Now our partners are developing toolkits to enable more schools to join the initiative. The labeling tents raise awareness about the problem and mobilize support for the most effective regulation proposal.
What is something you like about working with local partner organizations?
MDAF: I have the privilege of witnessing the enormous passion that drives the work of our Brazilian partners. What I see in Brazil is the true activism of people who dedicate their lives to building a better society and to protecting the current and future generations from harmful commercial practices that threaten the right to food and the right to health.
Brazil has a rich history of healthy food policies. What are some best practices that other countries could learn from?
MDAF: To answer this question, I will highlight three strengths of Brazil: the rights-based approach to food and health; the solid and vibrant activism on food related issues; and the understanding of healthy and sustainable diets.
Brazil has guaranteed in its Constitution that every citizen has the right to food and the right to health. This has established a base for polices and legal frameworks to protect and promote healthy and adequate food. One example is the Brazilian School Feeding Program (PNAE) that promotes healthy diets in public schools and the acquisition of food from local family farms.
In addition, Brazil has built a system where civil society participates in the development of food policy, and this is monitored through local and national councils (CONSEAs). The acknowledgement that food and health are constitutional rights was the result of heavy advocacy coming from multiple civil society voices that fought for policies to tackle hunger, undernutrition, and—more recently—obesity and other diet-related diseases.
Lastly, the development of the national dietary guidelines has enhanced the understanding of healthy and sustainable diets. The Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population are internationally recognized for their novel approach to nutrition. Their food-based approach reinforces the importance of centering one’s diet on natural and minimally processed foods while avoiding ultra-processed foods. The guidelines were developed by the Ministry of Health and the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health of the University of São Paulo (NUPENS/USP) in a participatory process that involved consultation with multiple sectors of the society. These guidelines have served as a solid foundation for the healthy food policies advocacy work in Brazil.