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The World Cup, Brazil and school meals

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The eyes of the sports world are on Brazil as the World Cup Soccer championship unfolds. Brazil has gotten more attention than it bargained for. The extreme heat, giant bugs and even a virus U.S. officials are worried travelers will bring back from the country.

Brazil's spending as the host of the World Cup also drew a lot of rage. Many wondered why those dollars were not spent on fixing poorly built infrastructure, including hospitals.

Let's also shine the light on a very successful program operating in Brazil, one that is a model for other nations. Brazil's school feeding program is part of a series of initiatives that have dramatically reduced hunger and malnutrition.

If you go back in time Brazil was a country deeply mired in hunger and even famine. The U.S. Food for Peace program, developed during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, was a big provider of aid to Brazil. This included millions of school meals.

Now today Brazil stands on its own with a nationwide school feeding program. Free meals are provided in all the public schools. According to the Centre of Excellence Against Hunger, there were 44 million students fed in 160,000 schools during 2012.

The school feeding also includes fresh fruits and vegetable in order to have the highest nutrition standards. When children are out of school, other programs such as direct transfer of cash provide needy families a safety net.

Last week I asked Daniel Balaban, director of the Centre of Excellence Against Hunger, what has been the impact of the school feeding in Brazil. Has it reduced malnutrition while improving class attendance? The answer is a clear yes, with numbers to back it up.

The number of undernourished children has decreased by 77 percent since 1990. All levels of school attendance have increased since 2001.

In addition, the school feeding makes it a priority to obtain the food from local farms. This helps the entire community.

Isadora Ferreira, the Centre's communications officer, states:

Although it has positive impacts on fighting poverty, increasing food security, and even strengthening smallholder farmers, it is a tool for improving students' performance, and increasing enrollment and attendance rates."

The Centre of Excellence Against Hunger tries to spread knowledge about Brazil's school feeding around the globe. For there are many nations that are not even close to what some might take for granted: meals for all school children.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) sponsors the Centre. WFP is the largest agency in the world fighting hunger and school meals is a major aspect of their operations. At one point, WFP provided school feeding in Brazil. Now Brazil can stand on its own for feeding its children.

Brazil is a success story on this front. In fact, Brazil has also been able to support school feeding in other countries where there is great need, including Haiti.

The World Cup has brought to light many social issues alongside the soccer matches. Let's hopes it spurs action on the hunger front, to help all nations fight hunger with school meals for all their children.

Originally published at The Huffington Post.

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