Background: New Zealand Government policy during the past decade has placed a high priority on closing socioeconomic and ethnic gaps in health outcome.
Aim: To analyse New Zealand's trends in preterm and small for gestational age (SGA) births and late fetal deaths during 1980–2001 and to undertake ethnic specific analyses, resulting in risk factor profiles, for each ethnic group.
Methods: De-identified birth registration data from 1 189 120 singleton live births and 5775 stillbirths were analysed for the period 1980–2001. Outcomes of interest included preterm birth, SGA and late fetal death while explanatory variables included maternal ethnicity, age and New Zealand Deprivation Index decile. Trend analysis was undertaken for 1980–1994 while multivariate logistic regression was used to explore risk factors for 1996–2001.
Results: During 1980–1994, preterm birth rates were highest amongst Maori women. Preterm rates increased by 30% for European/other women, in contrast to non-significant declines of 7% for Maori women and 4% for Pacific women during this period. During the same period, rates of SGA were highest amongst Maori women. Rates of SGA declined by 30% for Pacific women, 25% for Maori women and 19% for European/other women during this period. Rates of late fetal death were highest amongst Pacific women during 1980–1994, but declined by 49% during this period, the rate of decline being similar for all ethnic groups.
Conclusions: The marked differences in both trend data and risk factor profiles for women in New Zealand's largest ethnic groups would suggest that unless ethnicity is specifically taken into account in future policy and planning initiatives, the disparities seen in this analysis might well persist into future generations.