All singleton live births occurring in Singapore in the three years 1981-3 were computed, and birthweight was examined in the different ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay, and Indian). Overall the proportions of babies of very low birthweight (less than 1500 g) and low birthweight (less than 2500 g) were: Chinese 0.3% and 6.1%, Malays 0.4% and 8.5%, and Indians 0.5% and 10.0%. The important finding was that in all gestational periods and virtually all maternal age and live birth order groups Indians had the highest proportion of very low and low birthweight babies. However for prematurity Indians at 6.7% had a higher rate than Chinese (5.1%) but lower than Malays (9.9%). Likewise for neonatal mortality Indians at 8.7 per 1000 live births were between Chinese (7.1) and Malays (9.1). The evidence seems to indicate that the reason for Indians having a higher proportion of low birthweight babies is partly ethnic/genetic, and the cut-off point of 2500 g should perhaps be lowered for babies from the Indian subcontinent when international comparisons are being made.
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