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Letter from the editor | 277

Complex mechanisms

Publicly funded education in Brazil is a complex institutional system. The 1988 Constitution states that the process should be jointly funded and managed by all three levels of government: municipal, state, and federal. The federal government is responsible for organizing the flow of funds and has to direct at least 18% of tax revenue to the maintenance and development of education; states and municipalities, meanwhile, must invest at least 25% of their budgets.

In 2015, Brazil spent R$305 billion on education, of which 70% came from state and municipal funding and 30% was from the federal government. Of the total, 83% went to basic education (elementary, middle, and high school). The money is primarily allocated through the Basic Education Maintenance and Development Fund (FUNDEB), which is expected to expire at the end of 2020. One of the challenges faced by the current government is to rethink this funding mechanism, which is responsible for almost half of the total invested (R$150 billion) and 60% of the funds earmarked for public basic education.

FUNDEB’s imminent end raises some important questions, including how it could be transformed into a permanent funding mechanism, which is already the subject of a Proposed Constitutional Amendment, and whether to increase the amount of investment in education. There is no general consensus on this issue among experts—some argue that spending per student needs to be higher; others point out that increases in recent years have not resulted in performance improvements, indicating a need for better management.

In terms of the average percentage of GDP spent on education, Brazil is in line with the OECD average, but it is estimated that 2.8 million children in the country are currently not in school. This is a situation that needs to be addressed—under Brazilian law, education is compulsory between the ages of 4 and 17. But improving attendance would reduce the investment per student if overall funding was not increased. According to the OECD, Brazil needs to spend about four times as much per capita than it is at present if it wants to improve results.

This issue’s extensive cover story delves into the country’s public education funding, tackling the complex task of explaining its principal mechanisms. It also looks at higher education, which receives 17% of national funding and is also facing a number of challenges.

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The WHO estimates that 13% of the world’s adult population is obese, and more than half of all adults in OECD countries are overweight. This epidemic has raised the profile of studies into the physiological processes behind the feelings of hunger and satiety, which are central elements in many weight-loss strategies.

An ICB-USP study on rodents recently discovered a new response to food deprivation. Scientists already knew that fasting induces the release of growth hormone—an apparently contradictory response. Why, when the body is deprived of food, would it trigger a hormone that causes the body to expend calories by multiplying and repairing cells? Researchers have now shown that under these conditions, the hormone no longer influences growth: it is used to activate an area of the brain that increases the feeling of hunger and reduces energy expenditure. This effect had never before been identified. The next step is to see whether the same results are observed in humans; if so, this could be another piece in the puzzle of why weight loss diets so regularly seem to fail.

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