From Food for All to Health for All: Exploring Brazil's school feeding success

The Brazilian National School Feeding Programme, also known as Programa Nacional de Alimentação Escolar (PNAE), provides millions of students with nourishing meals. From fighting obesity to supporting local farmers, this programme serves wholesome food that meets local nutritional guidelines. With smart digital tools for monitoring and community engagement, PNAE is plays an important role in promoting healthy eating habits and wellbeing.

PNAE is a government initiative aimed at providing nutritious meals to students in public schools throughout Brazil. According to the United Nations World Food Programme report, it is one of the biggest school feeding programmes in the world:

“With an annual budget of more than R$ 4 billion (US$764 million), the Brazilian National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) caters to more than 40 million students, in more than 160,000 schools, across 5,570 Brazilian municipalities. The programme is responsible for the daily offer of 50 million meals, planned by more than 8,000 nutritionists and monitored by 80,000 School Feeding Board members”.

Evolving with time

The programme was initiated in 1955 by President Vargas with the aim to reduce hunger and improve students’ attendance at school. It was called The School Meal Campaign. In 1979 it has been renamed to PNAE [1].

The primary goal of this programme is to ensure that every student attending public schools, including those in pre-school, primary, and secondary levels, as well as those in technical and vocational education institutions, receives a daily meal that fulfils a minimum of 15% of their nutritional requirements. By providing balanced and adequate meals, the PNAE aims to contribute to the overall well-being, growth, and development of children and adolescents.

The programme is regulated by a federal law that ensures universal school feeding for all Brazilian students throughout the school year. Over the years, through various legislative changes and resolutions, the programme has expanded its scope, increased the involvement of family farmers, and emphasised community participation and nutrition education. For instance, according to a Provisional Measure declared by the Federal State in 2009, 30% of food purchases for school meals should come from family farmers [1]. This provision aimed to increase the inclusion of small farmers and promote local economies, which has benefited communities because suppliers have been chosen primarily among most vulnerable producers, including land reform settlers and indigenous population.

Since it first has been adopted, the main goals of the programme have changed. Initially developed as a campaign to beat hunger, the programme has evolved into a policy aimed at addressing overweight and obesity. By promoting healthy and balanced meals in schools, the programme aims to help students in adopting healthy eating habits. Also, through the implementation of nutritional guidelines and the inclusion of fresh and locally sourced ingredients, PNAE supports the provision of nutritious meals that contribute to a healthy diet.

Following Nutritional Guidelines

The programme emphasises the importance of offering diverse and nutrient-rich foods, reducing the consumption of processed and high-calorie products. All meals include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Sodas and sweets are not allowed at schools. Furthermore, the food processing levels, combinations, and limitations are influenced by Brazilian Dietary Guidelines. These guidelines emphasise the importance of fresh, locally sourced, and culturally appropriate food.

The federal government provides financial support to participating schools to cover the costs of food procurement, equipment, and personnel involved in the programme's implementation. Every municipality have a budget to hire nutritionists who are responsible for the development of menus. Menus must consider regional food habits, cultural diversity, and dietary restrictions of students. The nutritionists also have a challenge to adopt the menu to be well-liked by students [1]. 

Monitoring and evaluating

To ensure efficient and effective implementation of the programme, the National Fund for the Development of Education (FNDE) has made significant adjustments to its monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. On-site monitoring is conducted regularly, with municipalities and states selected based on performance criteria. FNDE collects, analyses, and reports data, conducts programme evaluations, and provides technical advice.

Additionally, two digital tools were developed. Firstly, the "PNAE Monitora" app automates on-site monitoring, standardises data, and enhances monitoring capacity (2). The app facilitates immediate processing of information collected during school visits, expediting data consolidation. Secondly, the "E-PNAE" app allows parents, students, teachers, nutritionists, and the school community to monitor and evaluate school meals nationwide. Users can access information on school budgets, receive healthy eating tips, and participate in an interactive quiz [2].


PNAE has shown positive results in addressing overweight and obesity among students. Studies have indicated that schools with well-structured feeding programmes, such as the PNAE, have lower levels of obesity [3].

By promoting healthy and balanced meals in schools and implementing nutritional guidelines, the PNAE aims to improve nutrition and reduce obesity rates among students. The programme emphasises the importance of offering diverse and nutrient-rich foods while reducing the consumption of processed and high-calorie products. Meals provided through the PNAE include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, while sodas and sweets are not allowed.

These efforts, along with the inclusion of fresh and locally sourced ingredients, contribute to the provision of nutritious meals that support a healthy diet. The programme's focus on nutritional education also plays a significant role in promoting healthy eating habits among students.

While the PNAE has shown positive outcomes in reducing overweight and obesity rates, adherence to the programme is crucial for its success in combating the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity [3]. Continued commitment to providing nutritious meals, implementing effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, and promoting community engagement are key factors in achieving sustained improvements in students' health outcomes.



[1] Silva, E., Pedrozo, E., Silva, T. (2023). The PNAE (National School Feeding Program) activity system and its mediations. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 10, 981932.

[2] WFP (2020). State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020. Rome, World Food Programme

[3] Boklis-Berer M, Rauber F, Azeredo CM, Levy RB, Louzada MLDC. The adherence to school meals is associated with a lower occurrence of obesity among Brazilian adolescents. Prev Med. 2021 Sep;150:106709. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2021.106709. Epub 2021 Jun 26. PMID: 34181943.



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