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Letter from the editor | 225

Measuring sticks and measures

The affirmation that “human babies, under ideal conditions, are almost always born with the same measurements” sounds odd.  Immediately, the claim causes my mind to spin crazily from tall Swedes to the shorter Japanese, from large US basketball players to Southern Italians, from Kenyan runners to Peruvian Indians, and I do not see how it can be true. I admit later that my impressions, which lead to what many would call common sense, is often better labeled prejudice. All babies, proposes this issue’s cover story, written by our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, are born with a length of approximately 50 cm, a measurement that “may vary two or three centimeters in either direction for this gestational age and seems to represent the optimal growth for the human species today.”

This peremptory statement is empirically based on the work of three hundred physicians and researchers linked to 27 institutions—including the Federal University of Pelotas, in Rio Grande do Sul—who weighed and measured 20,486 healthy newborns during their first hours of life, from May 2009 to August 2013, in eight countries including Brazil. With the results of this task, coordinated by  Argentine obstetrician José Villar, professor at the University of Oxford, UK, in September 2014, the huge team proposed, a sort of universal measuring stick for the almost 140 million children born every year. It thus responded to a concern brought up 20 years earlier by the World Health Organization (WHO), which sought a new tool for evaluating infant growth in order to assess health and the risk of disease and death in the first years of life of babies born at any latitude or longitude on Earth.  The details of the project and probable developments are recounted starting on page 18.

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Instead of zigzagging among the pages of different sections, which sometimes gives me great pleasure, in this letter my comments will strictly adhere to the order in which the articles appear in the magazine. This does not represent unneeded rigor, nor the need to renounce the pleasure of prose, but rather to obey my desire to highlight the ping-pong interview in this issue, written by Marcos Pivetta and Neldson Marcolin, special editor and managing editor of Pesquisa FAPESP, respectively. The notable and good-humored individual that the interview presents to readers beginning on page 26 is the Brazilian physiologist Thomas Maack, 79, professor emeritus of the Weill Cornell Medical College, who had to leave Brazil in the 1960s due to persecution by the dictatorship established by the 1964 military coup. Note that Maack, born in Insterburg, Germany, arrived in Brazil as a baby, in 1936, brought by parents fleeing the horror and terror that Hitler would spread throughout Europe. The chapter of Brazilian political violence would send him, after months of prison, from the USP Medical School to Syracuse University in New York State and then on to Cornell, an institution to which he maintains ties. Today, he dedicates less time to research in order to focus on improving medical school curricula worldwide.

I would also like to highlight, within the field of health and medicine, the report prepared by Editor Maria Guimarães on a study that presents new evidence that individuals with asthma or other respiratory diseases that cause inflammation and stiffening of the lungs can only improve with aerobic exercise (page 44). In technology, I must draw attention to the report by Technology Editor Marcos de Oliveira, together with our collaborator Evanildo da Silveira, on the new military aircraft developed by Embraer together with the Brazilian Air Force and other partners in Brazil and abroad (page 62). In the humanities, I recommend the report by Marcos Pivetta, who describes a revealing study on the evolution of the geographic origin and occupation, age and ideological profile of all federal representatives elected between 1945 and 2010 (page 76). And finally, I want to quickly mention page 90, the arts section, in which Lauro Lisboa Garcia speaks about the first CD of original compositions released by the respected conductor and professor Olivier Toni, at the age of 88. It is thanks to him that the measure could join the measuring stick in the title of this last letter of the year, bringing us inevitably to the lyrics of Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil’s famous song, “Aquele abraço” [That warm embrace].

Enjoy!

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