We have studied changes in the birthweight of Asian babies born alive at this hospital between 1968 and 1978. In 1978 Pakistani babies were 139 g heavier but Indian babies only 25 g heavier than 10 years earlier. Contributing to these changes were significantly fewer short mothers and primiparae among Pakistanis, and non-significant increases in gestational age and intrauterine growth (that is, weight centile after allowing for gestational age, parity, and maternal height). Among Indians there were significant increases in maternal height and gestational age, but parity was reduced and intrauterine growth did not increase. In both groups there were fewer teenage mothers, but whereas among Pakinstanis birth intervals of less than one year were less common, there was no such reduction among Indian mothers. The secular change suggests that genetic factors are unlikely to be the major reason why Pakistani babies born in Birmingham are lighter than European babies, and that environmental factors play an important role. Efforts to increase birthweight need to consider both the mothers' physical environment during pregnancy and prepregnancy factors influencing growth in childhood, age at first pregnancy, and birth interval. The study shows a need to describe an 'Asian' population with details of their sub-ethnic structure. The sub-ethnic and secular differences further suggest that a single 'Asian' standard for birthweight and intrauterine growth may be inappropriate; the use of international reference data with which all infants may be compared is preferable.
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