The accuracy of maternal anthropometry measurements as predictor for spontaneous preterm birth--a systematic review

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2005 Mar 1;119(1):11-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2004.07.041.


Objective: To assess the accuracy with which antenatal maternal anthropometric measurements predict the risk spontaneous preterm birth.

Study design: (1) DATA SOURCES: Studies were identified without language restrictions from MEDLINE, EMBASE, PASCAL, BIOSIS, the Cochrane Library, MEDION, National Research Register, SCISEARCH and Conference Papers, and manual searching of bibliographies of known primary and review articles, and contact with authors. (2) STUDY SELECTION AND DATA EXTRACTION: Studies were selected if they used antenatal maternal anthropometric features (pre-pregnancy weight, maternal pregnancy weight gain and maternal height) to predict spontaneous preterm birth. Two reviewers independently selected studies and extracted data on their characteristics, quality and accuracy. Accuracy data were used to form 2 x 2 contingency tables of the maternal anthropometric test results with spontaneous preterm birth as the reference standard. (3) DATA SYNTHESIS: Heterogeneity assessments were carried out to aid the decision regarding pooling of the accuracy results. Likelihood ratios for positive (LR+) and negative (LR-) test results were calculated, and summary estimates were produced in absence of heterogeneity of the accuracy results.

Results: There were eight primary accuracy articles that met the selection criteria, which included a total of 122,647 asymptomatic women. There were six studies on pre-pregnancy weight where five measured the body mass index (BMI) and one used an arbitrary measure. There were four studies on the adequacy of pregnancy weight gain and two studies on maternal height as a predictor for the risk of preterm birth. One article contributed three studies, while two articles provided two studies each. The commonest reference standard used was birth before 37 weeks' gestation. None of the studies fulfilled the ideal test accuracy study criteria. There was heterogeneity in the accuracy results of pre-pregnancy BMI but not in the adequacy of weight gain. All three maternal anthropometric features were poor predictors of preterm labour. Pre-pregnancy BMI is a poor predictor of preterm birth before 37 weeks' gestation (LR+ that ranged from 0.96 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66-1.40) to 1.75 (95% CI 1.33-2.31)) as are the adequacy of pregnancy weight gain (summary LR+ of 1.81, 95% CI 1.45-2.30) and short maternal height (LR+ of 1.79 (95% CI 1.27-2.52).

Conclusion: Routine antenatal maternal anthropometric measurements are not useful in predicting the risk of preterm birth before 37 weeks' gestation. Further studies should address their use in combination with other test but need to use a more clinically appropriate reference standard of preterm birth, such as birth before 32-34 weeks' gestation, and improve on the quality of study design.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry / methods*
  • Body Height
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Premature Birth / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Gain