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The First National Survey of Indigenous People’s Health and Nutrition in Brazil: rationale, methodology, and overview of results

Carlos EA Coimbra1*, Ricardo Ventura Santos12, James R Welch1, Andrey Moreira Cardoso1, Mirian Carvalho de Souza3, Luiza Garnelo4, Elias Rassi5, Maj-Lis Follér6 and Bernardo L Horta7

Author Affiliations

1 Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Rua Leopoldo Bulhões 1480, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 21041-210, Brazil

2 Departamento de Antropologia, Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Quinta da Boa Vista s/n, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 20940-040, Brazil

3 Divisão de Epidemiologia, Instituto Nacional de Câncer, Rua dos Inválidos 212, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 20231-020, Brazil

4 Centro de Pesquisa Leônidas e Maria Deane, Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Rua Terezina 476, Manaus, AM, 69057-070, Brazil

5 Departamento de Saúde Coletiva, Instituto de Patologia Tropical e Saúde Pública, Universidade Federal de Goiás, Rua 235 s/n, Goiânia, GO, 74605-050, Brazil

6 School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Box 700, Göteborg, SE-405 30, Sweden

7 Departamento de Medicina Social, Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade Federal de Pelotas, Rua Marechal Deodoro 1160, Pelotas, RS, 96001-970, Brazil

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:52  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-52

Published: 19 January 2013



Although case studies indicate that indigenous peoples in Brazil often suffer from higher morbidity and mortality rates than the national population, they were not included systematically in any previous national health survey. Reported here for the first time, the First National Survey of Indigenous People’s Health and Nutrition in Brazil was conducted in 2008–2009 to obtain baseline information based on a nationwide representative sample. This paper presents the study’s rationale, design and methods, and selected results.


The survey sought to characterize nutritional status and other health measures in indigenous children less than 5 years of age and indigenous women from 14 to 49 years of age on the basis of a survey employing a representative probabilistic sample of the indigenous population residing in villages in Brazil, according to four major regions (North, Northeast, Central-West, and South/Southeast). Interviews, clinical measurements, and secondary data collection in the field addressed the major topics: nutritional status, prevalence of hypertension and diabetes mellitus in women, child hospitalization, prevalence of tuberculosis and malaria in women, access to health services and programs, and characteristics of the domestic economy and diet.


The study obtained data for 113 villages (91.9% of the planned sample), 5,305 households (93.5%), 6,692 women (101.3%), and 6,128 children (93.1%). Multiple household variables followed a pattern of greater economic autonomy and lower socioeconomic status in the North as compared to other regions. For non-pregnant women, elevated prevalence rates were encountered for overweight (30.3%), obesity (15.8%), anemia (32.7%), and hypertension (13.2%). Among children, elevated prevalence rates were observed for height-for-age deficit (25.7%), anemia (51.2%), hospitalizations during the prior 12 months (19.3%), and diarrhea during the prior week (23.6%).


The clinical-epidemiological parameters evaluated for indigenous women point to the accentuated occurrence of nutrition transition in all regions of Brazil. Many outcomes also reflected a pattern whereby indigenous women’s and children’s health indicators were worse than those documented for the national Brazilian population, with important regional variations. Observed disparities in health indicators underscore that basic healthcare and sanitation services are not yet as widely available in Brazil’s indigenous communities as they are in the rest of the country.

Brazil; Indigenous peoples; Health surveys; Nutrition surveys; Health status indicators; Epidemiologic measurements; Maternal health; Child health