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Abstract
Background
Brazil experienced important progress in maternal and child health in recent decades. We aimed at describing secular trends as well as socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities in reproductive history indicators (birth spacing, previous adverse perinatal outcome, parity and multiple births) over a 33-year span.
Methods
Four population-based birth cohort studies included all hospital births in 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015 in Pelotas, Southern Brazil. Information on reproductive history was collected through interviews. Indicators were stratified by family income quintiles and skin colour. Absolute and relative measures of inequality were calculated.
Results
From 1982 to 2015, the proportion of primiparae increased from 39.2% to 49.6%, and median birth interval increased by 23.2 months. Poor women were more likely to report short intervals and higher parity, although reductions were observed in all income and ethnic groups. History of previous low birthweight was inversely related to income and increased by 7.7% points (pp) over time—more rapidly in the richest (12.1 pp) than in the poorest quintile (0.4 pp). Multiple births increased from 1.7% to 2.7%, with the highest increase observed among the richest quintile and for white women (220% and 70% increase, respectively). Absolute and relative income and ethnic-related inequalities for short birth intervals increased, whereas inequalities for previous low birthweight decreased over time.
Conclusions
In this 33-year period there were increases in birth intervals, multiple births and reports of previous low-birthweight infants. These trends may be explained by increased family planning coverage, assisted reproduction and a rise in preterm births, respectively. Our results show that socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities in health are dynamic and vary over time, within the same location.
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Socioeconomic inequalities are greatest in low-income countries.1 African and Latin American countries manifest the highest rates of inequalities, whereas Scandinavia and Eastern Europe exhibit the lowest.2 Poverty is associated with worse physical and mental health. Less equal societies have lower child well-being indicators and higher infant mortality rates compared with more equal countries.1 Socioeconomic inequalities decreased in most developed countries from 1910 to 1950 and then levelled off, but from 1980 onwards, inequalities in rich nations started to increase again.3
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Abstract
Background
Pre-pregnancy nutritional status and weight gain during pregnancy have short- and long-term consequences for the health of women and children. This study was aimed at evaluating maternal height,- and overweight or obesity at the beginning of the pregnancy and gestational weight gain, according to socioeconomic status and maternal skin colour of mothers in Pelotas, a southern Brazilian city, in 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015.
Methods
In 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015, the maternity hospitals in Pelotas were visited daily, all deliveries were identified and mothers who lived in the urban area of the city were interviewed. Maternal weight at the beginning of the pregnancy was self-reported by the mother or obtained from the antenatal card. Maternal height was collected from the maternity records or measured by the research team. Overweight or obesity was defined by a body mass index ≥25 kg/m2. Gestational weight gain was evaluated according to the Institute of Medicine guidelines.
Results
In the four cohorts, we evaluated 19 931 women. From 1982 to 2015, the prevalence of overweight or obesity at the beginning of the pregnancy increased from 22.1% to 47.0% and height increased by an average of 5.2 cm, whereas gestational weight gain did not change. Socioeconomic status was positively associated with maternal height, and the difference between the poorest and the wealthiest decreased. Overweight or obesity was lower among those mothers in the extreme categories of family income.
Conclusions
Over the 33-year span, mothers were taller at the beginning of the pregnancy, but the prevalence of overweight or obesity more than doubled.
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Abstract
Background
Hospital admissions in infancy are declining in several countries. We describe admissions to neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and other hospitalizations over a 33-year period in the Brazilian city of Pelotas.
Methods
We analysed data from four population-based birth cohorts launched in 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015, each including all hospital births in the calendar year. NICU and other hospital admissions during infancy were reported by the mothers in the perinatal interview and at the 12-month visit, respectively. We describe these outcomes by sex of the child, family income and maternal skin colour.
Results
In 1982, NICUs did not exist in the city; admissions into NICUs increased from 2.7% of all newborns in 1993 to 6.7% in 2015, and admission rates were similar in all income groups. Hospitalizations during the first year of life fell by 29%, from 23.7% in 1982 to 16.8% in 2015, and diarrhoea admissions fell by 95.2%. Pneumonia admissions fell by 46.3% from 1993 to 2015 (no data available for 1982). Admissions due to perinatal causes increased during the period. In the poorest income quintile, total admissions fell by 33% (from 35.7% to 23.9%), but in the richest quintile these remained stable at around 10%, leading to a reduction in inequalities. Over the whole period, children born to women with black or brown skin were 30% more likely to be admitted than those of white-skinned mothers.
Conclusions
Whereas NICU admissions increased, total admissions in the first year of life declined by nearly one-third. Socioeconomic disparities were reduced, but important gaps remain.
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Abstract
Background
Infant-mortality rates have been declining in many low- and middle-income countries, including Brazil. Information on causes of death and on socio-economic inequalities is scarce.
Methods
Four birth cohorts were carried out in the city of Pelotas in 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015, each including all hospital births in the calendar year. Surveillance in hospitals and vital registries, accompanied by interviews with doctors and families, detected fetal and infant deaths and ascertained their causes. Late-fetal (stillbirth)-, neonatal- and post-neonatal-death rates were calculated.
Results
All-cause and cause-specific death rates were reduced. During the study period, stillbirths fell by 47.8% (from 16.1 to 8.4 per 1000), neonatal mortality by 57.0% (from 20.1 to 8.7) and infant mortality by 62.0% (from 36.4 to 13.8). Perinatal causes were the leading causes of death in the four cohorts; deaths due to infectious diseases showed the largest reductions, with diarrhoea causing 25 deaths in 1982 and none in 2015. Late-fetal-, neonatal- and infant-mortality rates were higher for children born to Brown or Black women and to low-income women. Absolute socio-economic inequalities based on income—expressed in deaths per 1000 births—were reduced over time but relative inequalities—expressed as ratios of mortality rates—tended to remain stable.
Conclusion
The observed improvements are likely due to progress in social determinants of health and expansion of health care. In spite of progress, current levels remain substantially greater than those observed in high-income countries, and social and ethnic inequalities persist.
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Abstract
Background
Brazil has made substantial improvements in the duration of breastfeeding. We use data from four population-based cohorts to examine how trends and inequalities in breastfeeding indicators changed over time in a Brazilian city.
Methods
Data from four birth cohorts, each including all births in a calendar year (1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015) in the city of Pelotas were used. Information on breastfeeding was collected when children were aged between 3 and 20 months. The prevalences of continued breastfeeding at 1 year of age and of exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months were calculated according to family income, maternal skin colour and sex.
Results
Prevalence of breastfeeding at 12 months increased from 16% to 41% in the 33-year period. The prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months increased from 7% in 1993 to 45% in 2015. Increases in exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months were seen in all socioeconomic groups, but the 2015 rates remain highest (57.2%) among the women in the richest quintile, and lowest among those in the poorest quintile (34.6%). Black mothers were more likely to breastfeed at 12 months than Whites in the four cohorts. In the earlier cohorts, breastfeeding at 12 months was more common among the poor, but by 2015 these differences had disappeared.
Conclusions
There were important positive changes in breastfeeding practices during this period, but less than half of the children in 2015 were receiving the full benefits of breast milk. Improved breastfeeding practices are being adopted by high-income women to a greater extent than by poor women.
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Abstract
Background
Levels of child undernutrition have declined in many middle-income countries, whereas overweight and obesity have increased. We describe time trends in nutritional indicators at age 1 year in the 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015 Pelotas (Brazil) Birth Cohorts.
Methods
Each study included all children born in the urban area of the city, with over 4 200 births in each cohort. Children were measured at approximately 12 months of age. Anthropometric indicators were calculated according to World Health Organization Growth Standards. Stunting and wasting were defined as <-2 Z scores for length for age and weight for length, and overweight as >2 Z scores for weight for length. Prevalence was stratified by sex, maternal skin colour and family income.
Results
The prevalence of stunting declined by 53% (from 8.3% to 3.9%) from 1982 to 2015. Wasting prevalence remained stable at low levels (1.8% in 1982 and 1.7% in 2015), whereas overweight increased by 88% (6.5% to 12.2%). Undernutrition was more common among boys, those born to mothers with brown or black skin colour and in the poorest quintile of families. Socioeconomic inequalities in undernutrition decreased markedly over time. Overweight was markedly more common among the rich in 1982, but fast increase among the poor eliminated socioeconomic differences by 2015, when all groups showed similar prevalence.
Conclusions
Our results confirm the rapid nutrition transition in Brazil, with marked reduction in levels and inequalities in undernutrition in parallel with a rapid increase in overweight, which became the main nutritional problem for children.
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The nine articles in this Supplement present the main results from over three decades of epidemiological research in the city of Pelotas in Southern Brazil. Our first perinatal study was inspired by the British Births study of 1970, to which we were exposed as young trainees in the UK. With the strong support of Prof. Patrick Vaughan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who supervised our doctoral degrees, we obtained international funding from Canada (International Development Research Center) and the UK (Overseas Development Administration) to launch the 1982 Pelotas Birth Cohort study. Since then, a new cohort has been launched every 11 years. Over 20 000 subjects, in our city of 340 000 inhabitants, are being followed up from birth. These datasets allow not only analyses of life course epidemiology within a given cohort, but also panel type, secular trend analyses in which individuals of similar age in the four cohorts are compared.
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Abstract
Background
Few low-middle-income countries have data from comparable birth cohort studies spanning over time. We report on the methods used by the Pelotas cohorts (1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015) and describe time trends in sociodemographic characteristics of the participant families.
Methods
During the four study years, all maternity hospitals in the city were visited daily, and all urban women giving birth were enrolled. Data on socioeconomic and demographic characteristics were collected using standardized questionnaires, including data on maternal and paternal skin colour, age and schooling, maternal marital status, family income and household characteristics. The analyses included comparisons of time trends and of socioeconomic and ethnic group inequalities.
Results
Despite a near 50% increase in the city’s population between 1982 and 2015, the total number of births declined from 6011 to 4387. The proportion of mothers aged ≥35 years increased from 9.9% to 14.8%, and average maternal schooling from 6.5 [standard deviation (SD) 4.2] to 10.1 (SD 4.0) years. Treated water was available in 95.3% of households in 1982 and 99.3% in 2015. Three-quarters of the families had a refrigerator in 1982, compared with 98.3% in 2015. Absolute income-related inequalities in maternal schooling, household crowding, household appliances and access to treated water were markedly reduced between 1982 and 2015. Maternal skin colour was associated with inequalities in age at childbearing and schooling, as well as with household characteristics.
Conclusions
During the 33-year period, there were positive changes in social and environmental determinants of health, including income, education, fertility and characteristics of the home environment. Socioeconomic inequality was also reduced.
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Abstract
Background
Antenatal care and correctly indicated caesarean section can positively impact on health outcomes of the mother and newborn. Our objective was to describe how coverage and inequalities for these interventions changed from 1982 to 2015 in Pelotas, Brazil.
Methods
Using perinatal data from the 1982, 1993, 2004 and 2015 Pelotas birth cohorts, we assessed antenatal care coverage and caesarean section rates over time. Antenatal care indicators included the median number of visits, the prevalence of mothers attending at least six visits and the proportion who started antenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy and attended at least six visits. We described these outcomes according to income quintiles and maternal skin colour, to identify inequalities. We described overall, private sector and public sector caesarean section rates. Differences in prevalence were tested using chi-square testing and median differences using Kruskal-Wallis testing.
Results
From 1982 to 2015, the median number of antenatal care visits and the prevalence of mothers attending at least six visits increased in all income quintiles and skin colour groups. Inequalities were reduced, but not eliminated. The overall proportion of caesarean births increased from 27.6% in 1982 to 65.1% in 2015, when 93.9% of the births in the private sector were by caesarean section. Absolute income-related inequalities in caesarean sections increased over time.
Conclusions
Special attention should be given to the antenatal care of poor and Black women in order to reduce inequalities. The explosive increase in caesarean sections requires radical changes in delivery care policies, in order to reverse the current trend.

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