Increasing trends in incidence of preterm birth among 2.5 million newborns in Guangzhou, China, 2001 to 2016: an age-period-cohort analysis

BMC Public Health. 2020 Nov 4;20(1):1653. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09739-6.


Background: The incidence of preterm birth (PTB, < 37 weeks of gestation) has been increasing in China and many other countries in recent years. However, the causes of the increase were not well understood. The current study aims to examine the contribution of maternal age, period of delivery, and maternal birth cohorts to long-term trends in preterm birth in Guangzhou, China.

Methods: In a retrospective population-based study, data were obtained from 2,535,000 singleton live births with 20-43 gestational weeks from 2001 to 2016 and recorded in the Guangzhou Perinatal Health Care and Delivery Surveillance System, in China. The age-period-cohort models were applied to investigate the temporal changes in incidences of PTB, stratified by parity.

Results: The incidence of preterm birth steadily increased from 5.1% in 2001 to 5.9% in 2016, with larger rise in primiparous mothers (from 5.0 to 5.9%) compared to multiparous mothers (from 5.6 to 5.9%). A J-shaped and a V-shaped relationship were found between maternal age and PTB among primiparous and multiparous mothers, respectively. A linear cohort effect was found among primiparous mothers with the lowest risk of PTB [risk ratio (RR) = 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.74 to 0.89] in 1961 and the highest risk (RR = 1.06, 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.13) in 1997 compared to the mothers born in 1981. An inverse U-shaped association between maternal birth cohort and PTB was found in multiparous mothers. There were weak decreasing period effects on the trend of overall PTB among multiparous mothers and on the trend of extremely (< 27 weeks) or very (28-31 weeks) PTB among both parity groups during the period of 2001-2012.

Conclusions: Our findings showed the PTB incidences had been increasing in the past 16 years in Guangzhou, China and both maternal age and cohort effects contributed to these trends. Further studies are recommended on the impact of altered maternal age and parity on premature births and corresponding public education and public health policies.

Keywords: Age-period-cohort analysis; Epidemiology; Parity; Preterm birth; Secular trends.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Live Birth
  • Male
  • Maternal Age*
  • Mothers
  • Parity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies