Letter from the editor | 94

A different epidemic

In the last two decades, Brazilian doctors have been put before one of those paradoxes so common in Brazil. At the same time that there is a legion of paupers in the country, to the point of motivating the government to create a program called Zero Hunger, the specialists are seeing the number of obese people increase here. Epidemiological studies carried out using data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) indicate that there are about 17 million obese persons in the country, which means 9.6% of the population. It is a figure that has doubled in 20 years, between 1975 and 1997. Actually, the phenomenon is global, more serious in the more developed countries  according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 300 millions obese persons in the world and, of these, one third are in the developing countries. The WHO, by the way, regards obesity as one of the ten main public health problems in the world, now classified as an epidemic. Obviously, the consequences of overweight are bad for those who are carrying it, because it increases the propensity for developing hypertension and diabetes.

Pesquisa FAPESP decided to take advantage of the end of the year, a time that is abundant in parties and foods that lead everyone to abuse of the good table, to put the question on the cover of the magazine. Obesity, for sure, has multiple causes: from excessive food to a genetic propensity. What we showed in the article by Ricardo Zorzetto and Francisco Bicudo are researches from the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Heart Institute (InCor) explaining what the physiological alterations in the organism of the obese are that cause these problems. And, more important, how to revert this condition with the combined and on-going practice of diet and exercises. If we want to free public health of yet another ailment, the way out is as simple as it is “inconvenient”: one has to eat less and face up to a serious program of exercises.

As we are talking about food, it is appropriate to mention the coming into operation, in earnest, of the Biosafety Network of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), which is getting ready to test in the field a genetically modified papaya that is resistant to the ringspot virus. Working in a network with other institutions ought to make possible a swift revision of procedures and analyses, to incorporate new data into the investigation, and to expand contact with similar scientific ventures abroad.

Still in the plant world, encouraging news for the energy sector. Diesel oil, which fuels trucks, buses, tractors and locomotives in Brazil, in another couple of years, is to be given a percentage of biodiesel, a fuel produced with ethanol and vegetable oils. The economic advantages are significant: biodiesel is totally renewable, pollutes less than the diesel from petroleum, and there already is an industry producing alcohol in the country. The researches are run by dozens of researchers form various institutions from all over the country. Starting on page 66, it will be possible to get to know the main projects that are being developed.

The Humanities section is smaller in this issue, but it brings two texts of substance. The first is an interview with Ismail Xavier, a professor from USP, one of the most important scholars of the Brazilian cinema. Talking of his new book, O Olhar e a Cena, (The Look and Scene), Xavier takes us on a journey through the history of the cinema and tells how stories migrated from the stage to the screen in Brazil. The other article is the presentation of the Woman, Women dossier, a collection of 17 texts from the magazine Estudos Avançados (Advanced Studies) that deal with questions like work and violence and tell of the struggles of Brazilian women against the various discriminations that they (still) suffer and their contribution to the sciences, education, philosophy and arts. It is worth the while to get to know the new data that emerges from these articles in the 49th issue of the magazine, which is published by USP’s Advanced Studies Institute.

Season’s greetings and a happy 2004.