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Birth weight trends in England and Wales (1986–2012): babies are getting heavier

Abstract

Introduction Birth weight is a strong predictor of infant mortality, morbidity and later disease risk. Previous work from the 1980s indicated a shift in the UK towards heavier births; this descriptive analysis looks at more recent trends.

Methods Office for National Statistics (ONS) registration data on 17.2 million live, single births from 1986 to 2012 were investigated for temporal trends in mean birth weight, potential years of birth weight change and changes in the proportions of very low (<1500 g), low (<2500 g) and high (≥4000 g) birth weight. Analysis used multiple linear and logistic regression adjusted for maternal age, marital status, area-level deprivation and ethnicity. Additional analyses used the ONS NHS Numbers for Babies data set for 2006–2012, which has information on individual ethnicity and gestational age.

Results Over 27 years there was an increase in birth weight of 43 g (95% CI 42 to 44) in females and 44 g (95% CI 43 to 45) in males, driven by birth weight increases between 1986–1990 and 2007–2012. There was a concurrent decreased risk of having low birth weight but an 8% increased risk in males and 10% increased risk in females of having high birth weight. For 2006–2012 the birth weight increase was greater in preterm as compared with term births.

Conclusions Since 1986 the birth weight distribution of live, single births in England and Wales has shifted towards heavier births, partly explained by increases in maternal age and non-white ethnicity, as well as changes in deprivation levels. Other potential influences include increases in maternal obesity and reductions in smoking prevalence particularly following the introduction of legislation restricting smoking in public places in 2007.

  • Epidemiology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Growth

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