The Fiocruz Observa Infância made a survey on infant malnutrition which showed that the rates for babies below one year old have been rising in Brazil. Data show that in 2021 the Unified Health System (SUS, the Brazilian public health system) recorded an average of eight infant hospitalizations per day due to malnutrition, a consequence of nutritional deficiencies in this age group. There were a total of 2,979 hospitalizations for this age group during the second year of the pandemic (2021), the higher absolute number in the past 13 years. Up to 30 August 2022, the national health service recorded a total of 2,115 babies hospitalized due to malnutrition, bumping up to 8.7 the average daily hospitalization rate - an increase of 7% when compared with 2021.
The data also showed that black babies (black and brown) account for two out of every three hospitalizations due to malnutrition recorded between January 2018 and August 2022 in the national health service. For this calculation, the study took into account only the cases for which race/color was recorded. Between 2018 and 2021, the country recorded 13,202 hospitalizations due to malnutrition among babies below one year of age. Of these, 5,246 were black or brown babies, but one out of every three recorded cases lacks information regarding race/color.
“We still have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to identification by race and color in our information systems, but with the data we already have we can say there is a higher proportion of black and brown children hospitalized due to malnutrition”, states Cristiano Boccolini, researcher of the Institute of Scientific and Technological Communication and Information on Health (Icict/Fiocruz) and coordinator of Observa Infância.
For the number of hospitalizations due to malnutrition (2009-2021), Boccolini worked with data from the Hospital Information System (SIH), as of 18 October 2022. For the 2022 records, the coordinator of Observa Infância used data collected on 24 October.
For the hospitalization and mortality rates, the calculation also included data from the Information System on Live Births (Sinasc) and the Information System on Mortality (SIM), available up to 2020. The data collected from SIH may suffer alterations due to the time required to finalize the registration in the system.
Since 2016, the rate of hospitalizations due to malnutrition among babies below one year old has been on the rise in Brazil, but it reached its lowest point in 2021, with 113 hospitalizations for every 100,000 live births - a 51% increase when compared with 2011, when the country recorded 75 hospitalizations of infants for every 100,000 live births, the lowest rate for the period under analysis, considering the full years (2009-2021).
The trend is different from what was observed in the number of deaths and in the mortality rate due to the same cause in this age group, which recorded a constant drop since 2009 and reached its lowest rate in 2020, the last year with consolidated figures.
The South Region was the only one that recorded a drop in hospitalization rates due to malnutrition in babies below one between 2020 and 2021. The Center-West Region was the one with the highest increase: 30% between the first and the second year of the pandemic.
Even then, the worst rate of hospitalizations due to malnutrition was recorded in the North East Region, where 171 babies below one were hospitalized out of every 100,000 live births in 2021, 51% above the national average.
The Observatório de Saúde na Infância (Childhood Health Observatory, also known as Observa Infância) is a scientific dissemination initiative to bring data and information about the health of children up to five years old to society.