Doctor : Marie Delnord

Title : Understanding geographic and temporal variations in preterm birth rates and trends : an international study in 34 high-income countries

Supervisors : Jennifer Zeitlin

Doctoral school :ED393 Pierre Louis Doctoral School of Public Health, Paris Descartes University

Date of thesis defense : 11/2017

Jury : Jennifer Zeitlin, Damien Subtil, Anita Ravelli, Catherine Arthaud, Isabelle Grémy

Thesis summary : 

Preterm birth (PTB), defined as birth before 37 weeks, is a leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity. Compared to term infants, preterm infants face important risks of motor and cognitive impairments throughout childhood, as well as chronic diseases and premature death later in life. PTB represents a significant public health burden and in Europe, rates range between 5 and 10%. Such wide differences suggest that reductions may be possible, but there are few effective interventions, and these tend to target selected groups of high-risk pregnancies, based on clinical risk factors. Our aim for this thesis was to better appraise sources of population-level PTB rate variations and trends. First, we conducted an exhaustive review of the literature and found that maternal characteristics, reproductive policies, medical practices and methods of gestational age (GA) estimation affected PTB rates, but could not explain observed differences across countries. Next, using population-based data on pregnant women, newborns and stillbirths in 34 high-income countries from 1996 to 2010, we showed that: 1) reporting criteria for births and deaths affected PTB rates at early gestations and PTB rankings, but differences between countries with high and low rates are not just due to artefact 2) PTB trends were associated with broader shifts in countries’ gestational age GA distribution of births, and 3) using data from a representative sample of births in France in 2010, that there were shared maternal prenatal and socio-demographic risk factors for deliveries that did not reach full term, at 39 weeks GA. Our work confirms that recording differences in high-income countries have a limited impact on PTB rate variations. However, a broader focus on earlier delivery, including early term birth at 37-38 weeks, could shed light on the determinants of low PTB rates and provide a useful public health prevention paradigm.

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