Unravelling the Impact of Bolsa Família Program on Birth Weight Indicators in Brazil

By Danélia Botes

December 6, 2023

Introduction

Birth weight and gestational age are vital indicators of newborn health. Low birth weight (LBW) is a concern. Especially in low and middle-income countries, as it poses short and long-term health risks. In Brazil, approximately 8.7% of live births are considered LBW. This statistic that hasn’t significantly decreased over the last 15 years. This study examines the impact of Bolsa Família Program (BFP) on Birth Weight in Brazil, a conditional cash transfer (CCT) program in Brazil, that impacts these birth weight indicators.

Impact of Bolsa Família Program on Birth Weight in Brazil

The BFP, one of the world’s pioneering CCTs, benefits over 13 million families per year. In the 1990s, the strategy was initiated for social protection and poverty reduction. Unlike unconditional cash transfer programs that provide only monetary transfers, CCTs require adherence to a health and education agenda for continued receipt. This requirement may lead to reductions in barriers to accessing services, increased income and food access, and, consequently, promotion of maternal and child health.

The Study Population and the Exposure

The study focused on children born from live births in the Centro de Integracao de Dados e Conhecimentos Para Saude (CIDACS) Birth Cohort from 2012 to 2015. The mothers were aged between 10 and 49 years and were registered on CadÚnico, the Brazilian national social program register. The study considered births that occurred between 2012 and 2015 due to a change to birth certificates in 2011. The births were classified based on whether the mother started receiving BFP during the cohort period.

Findings

The study found that BFP participation was associated with reduced chances of LBW and an increase in birth weight in grams. The impact was greater among higher-risk population subgroups, such as mothers who attended fewer than seven antenatal care appointments, were Black, Indigenous, or Parda, and less educated. They found an association among Indigenous mothers and those with less education, where participation in BFP decreased the odds of small for gestational age. 

Conclusions

The study found an association between BFP participation and improved birth weight indicators, particularly in higher-risk groups. This highlights the importance of maintaining financial support. Especially for high-risk mothers and reducing barriers to access and use of health services. Future studies may also assess the quality of prenatal care provided to socioeconomically high-risk populations.

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