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Letter from the Editor | 248

Public policies and private research studies

Adolescent health has been the subject of two comprehensive national surveys: hundreds of researchers from dozens of universities interviewed thousands of individuals between the ages of 12 and 17.  The description of such things as eating habits, physical activities, metabolic changes and mental health indicators has revealed a troubling, although expected picture.

One of the surveys, designed to identify the frequency of cardiovascular risks, found relatively elevated rates of overweight or obesity (25%), and rates above recommended levels for total cholesterol (20%) and blood pressure (10%). Data on mental health is also alarming.  One out of every three adolescents displays signs of some degree of psychological distress, which mainly affects girls: 38.4% of them showed symptoms of depression and anxiety, the same symptoms were identified in 21.6% of the boys.

Also troubling was the lifestyle of a major share of those interviewed:  most (54.3%) are sedentary and spend two or more hours a day in front of the television (66.6%), often eating their meals in front of the screen.  Their nutrition is unbalanced and unregulated.

Data from the World Health Organization shows that Brazil is no anomaly in this regard. The proportion of adolescents that present with health problems is similar to that of other countries.  The studies funded by the Ministry of Health (MS) offer critical national data to help draft public policies in health and education that keep these adolescents from becoming sick adults.

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Universities and companies are the most common answer to the question of where science and technology research is produced – but it is not the only one. Private institutes that engage in custom-ordered research constitute a lesser known, though not unusual, avenue, as shown in the report that begins on page 34 and describes 18 cases in São Paulo.

The origins of these institutes vary widely. The CPqD, former research center of the now-dissolved state-run telecommunications company Telebrás, is the largest of São Paulo’s private information technology institutes. Other research centers in this field have sprung up as a result of the Information Technology Act, which requires companies to make investments in research and development (R&D) in exchange for benefits.  A portion of their investments needs to be made in domestic research and education institutions – a requirement that has promoted the establishment of non-profit institutions.  One example is the Eldorado Institute, founded by Motorola, which, following that U.S. company’s difficulties, expanded the number of clients to whom it offers its services.

Tax incentives also encouraged hospitals to develop research activities.  Since 2009, hospitals classified as charitable health institutions can form partnerships with the Ministry of Health that allow sums invested in Ministry-approved research projects to be granted tax breaks. Included among these are the Sírio-Libanês, Albert Einstein, HCor, Samaritano and Oswaldo Cruz Hospitals.

Another group of private institutes operates in the realm of agriculture. The CTC, which focuses on sugarcane studies, was founded in 1969 as an initiative of sugar mill owners, seeking to establish a collective center to develop technology for the industry.  Restructured a few years ago, today’s CTC is a corporation that focuses on disruptive technologies for the sugar-energy industry.

The phenomenon is relatively recent and deserves to be carefully monitored, not just because it is an alternative avenue for R&D activities, but also because most rely on public resources to fund their operations.

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