Latest ONS statistics highlight rise in preterm birth and deepening ethnic disparity

Posted on January 20, 2023

Hands neonatal

The latest birth statistics for 2021 show a slight increase in overall preterm birth rates, with the highest rate of preterm birth among Black babies.

The figures show that the rate of preterm birth has increased most significantly for Asian babies and also highlight a tragically higher rate of stillbirth in Black babies.

The data shows that in 2021:

  • The overall percentage of preterm live births increased from 7.4% in 2020 to 7.6% in 2021, ending three years of consecutive decreases.
  • Babies from the Black ethnic group have had the highest proportion of preterm births since data collection began in 2007. In 2021, 8.7% of live births in the Black ethnic group were preterm births.
  • Between 2020 and 2021, the biggest percentage increase in preterm live births was in the Asian ethnic group, from 7.5% to 8.1%

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said:

“It is incredibly worrying that rather than making progress towards the Government’s National Ambition, which includes an aim to reduce the rate of preterm birth by 25 per cent and halve the rate of stillbirth by 2025, these figures highlight an alarming step backwards.

“If the National Ambition is to be achieved, then the Government must ensure services have the resources they need to drive sustained improvements in care. These statistics also add to the overwhelming body of evidence of the impact of health inequality on newborn outcomes. It is simply unacceptable that Black babies face significantly higher risk of preterm birth than other babies, and we urge the Government to set specific targets to reduce preterm birth and stillbirth – as well as neonatal and maternal mortality – in the ethnic communities most affected. Without such dedicated focus on understanding and addressing these levels of ethnic disparity, these disparities won’t be reduced.”

Read the full report here