The medical literature was searched for publications between 1966 and September 1997 for data on the association of Apgar score, umbilical blood pH, or Sarnat grading of encephalopathy with long-term adverse outcome. Odds ratios for these associations were combined to calculate common odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals. Our search identified abstracts of 1312 studies and 81 articles with sufficient numeric data to formulate contingency tables. Forty-two of these qualified for inclusion in our meta-analysis. The strongest associations in the prediction of neonatal death were found by comparing umbilical artery pH <7 with pH >/=7 (common odds ratio 43; 95% confidence interval 15-124) and by comparing Sarnat grade III with grade II (common odds ratio 24; 95% confidence interval 13-45). In the prediction of cerebral palsy, the strongest associations were found for Sarnat grade III versus grade II (common odds ratio 20; 95% confidence interval 6-70) and for 20-minute Apgar score 0 to 3 versus 4 to 6 (common odds ratio 15; 95% confidence interval 5-50).