06:28am Sunday 29 March 2020

Preterm births higher among deprived mothers, despite equal care

Research: Socioeconomic inequalities in survival and provision of neonatal care: population based study of very preterm infants

Editorial: Socioeconomic inequalities in survival in neonates

Despite improvements in obstetric care services, women from deprived areas are still more likely to give birth to a very preterm baby compared with mothers from more affluent areas, finds a University of Leicester study published on bmj.com today.

Yet survival rates and provision of care was similar for infants from all areas, suggesting that neonatal care provision is equitable. A finding in contrast to many other areas of health care where socioeconomic inequalities in survival and access to care are common.

These findings highlight an urgent need to better understand the link between deprivation and risk of preterm birth, say the authors.

In developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, preterm birth is a major cause of infant mortality. The risks of death are highest in those born very preterm (before 33 weeks’ gestation) and in those from the most deprived areas.

Little is known, however, about how the survival of very preterm infants varies with deprivation.

So researchers at the University of Leicester set out to assess the socioeconomic inequalities in survival and provision of neonatal care among very preterm infants in the UK.

They tracked 7,449 very preterm infants born 1998-2007 in the former Trent region of England from the onset of labour until discharge from neonatal care. A deprivation score was calculated for each infant using postcode data.

Mothers from the most deprived areas were nearly twice as likely to have a very preterm infant compared to those from the least deprived areas and consequently there were nearly twice as many deaths due to very preterm birth in the most deprived areas.

However, among very preterm infants, survival rates and neonatal care provision showed little variation across all deprivation measures. This suggests that, although socioeconomic inequalities in preterm birth rates persist, deprivation does not seem to be a barrier to accessing and receiving neonatal care.

As such, the authors believe that understanding the link between deprivation and risk of preterm birth should be a major research priority.

“It seems highly likely that such work could lead to public health strategies that would reduce the costs not only of neonatal care but also attached to the long term health problems suffered by some of these babies,” they conclude.

“Further progress on preventing preterm birth in general and reducing socioeconomic inequalities in preterm birth is unlikely to occur without a better understanding of the role of socioeconomic factors,” say Ron Gray from the University of Oxford and Marie McCormick from Harvard School of Public Health in an accompanying editorial.

They believe that future research should focus on the interplay between the wider determinants of socioeconomic inequalities in health and the biological pathways to parturition.

Action Medical Research have released a statement on this study, which you can read by clicking here .


Research: Lucy Smith, Research Fellow, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, UK

Tel (9am–3pm): +44 (0)116 252 5418

Email: [email protected]

Editorial: Ron Gray, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, UK

Tel: +44 (0)1865 229 446

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