The study, led by Winthrop Professor John Newnham, from The University of Western Australia’s School of Women’s and Infants’ Health, found the rate of preterm birth increased as women move to a more Western environment, with Chinese women recording lower rates of preterm births than women in Hong Kong or Western Australia.
Professor Newnham said the rising rate of preterm birth in Chinese women as they moved to more Western environments suggested that behaviour and lifestyle may be significant factors associated with preterm birth.
“The results of this study may help with the prevention of preterm birth by studying populations that have low rates rather than focusing on those with the highest rates,” he said.
“The results also suggest that recent major economic and social advances in China may bring with them an increase in the rate of preterm birth.”
Researchers in Perth, Hong Kong and Nanjing examined records of 26,611 pregnancies in China’s rural Jiangsu Province, 48,976 pregnancies in Hong Kong and 185,798 pregnancies in Western Australia.
In the study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, preterm birth was defined as birth after 24 completed weeks and before 37 completed weeks of gestation.
In Jiangsu Province, one of the largest provinces in China with a population of 77 million, just 2.6 per cent births were recorded as preterm in urban areas and 2.9 per cent in rural parts.
The rate of preterm birth among non-resident Chinese women in Hong Kong was 5.6 per cent and 7.6 per cent for Hong Kong residents.
In Western Australia, the rate of preterm birth was significantly lower in Chinese women who had been born in China (4.4 per cent) compared to the general rate for women in WA of 8.2 per cent.