Social inequality and perinatal health: comparison of three Brazilian cohorts.
ABSTRACT The objective of the present study was to estimate and compare social inequality in terms of three indicators, i.e., low birth weight (LBW), preterm birth (PTB) and small for gestational age (SGA) birth, in three birth cohorts. Two cohorts were from the city of Ribeirão Preto, where data were collected for all 6748 live born singletons in 1978/79 and for one third of live born singletons (2846) in 1994. The third cohort consisted of 2443 singletons born in São Luís over a period of one year (1997/98). In Ribeirão Preto, LBW and PTB rates increased in all social strata from 1978/79 to 1994. Social inequalities regarding LBW and PTB disappeared since the increase in these rates was more accelerated in the groups with higher educational level. The percentage of SGA infants increased over the study period. Social inequality regarding SGA birth increased due to a more intense increase in SGA births in the strata with lower schooling. In São Luís, in 1997/98 there was no social inequality in LBW or PTB rates, whereas SGA birth rate was higher in mothers with less schooling. We speculate that the more accelerated increase in medical intervention, especially due to the increase in cesarean sections in the more privileged groups, could be the main factor explaining the unexpected increase in LBW and PTB rates in Ribeirão Preto and the decrease or disappearance of social inequality regarding these perinatal indicators in the two cities.