Nearly 100 Million Chinese Adults Have COPD, New Study Reports

The study conducted by Tulane University researchers is now the largest study ever done between the Chinese public, COPD, and air pollution.
Shelby Rogers

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (more commonly known as COPD) is one of the most life-threatening lung diseases in the world. In total, there were over 251 million cases of COPD across the globe in 2016. One country, in particular, accounted for nearly 100 million of those cases, according to new research. A study from Tulane University determined that COPD was present in over 8.6 percent of China's adult population. 

The study is the largest COPD survey ever conducted in China, according to the researchers. They provided lung-function screenings for nearly 60,000 participants. 

COPD is a life-threatening lung disease that progresses over time. It causes breathlessness, but early on it can be hard to spot as it's often triggered by physical exertion. However, it's not caused by getting too worked up at the gym; it's caused by long-term exposure to pollution. This includes cigarette smoke and other chemicals found in polluted air. 

For over two decades, ambient air pollution is something with which the Chinese government has struggled. Most recently, a secondary study by Peking University noted that hazardous ground-level ozone concentrations have worsened in the northern part of China despite the government's increased efforts to take on air pollution.

According to the study's senior author, young men have often endured the largest percentage of complications involving the ambient air pollution. Senior Author Jiang He served as the Joseph Copes Chair of Epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Heath & Tropical Medicine. 

"The biggest preventable risk factors for the disease are cigarette smoking and air pollution."

"Our research shows that COPD is highly prevalent in the Chinese adult population. The biggest preventable risk factors for the disease are cigarette smoking and air pollution," He says. "Prevention programs and increased efforts to catch COPD early should be public-health priorities in China to reduce COPD-related diseases and deaths."

The study noted that men had a higher prevalence of COPD than their female counterparts. Men had 11.9 percent of COPD as their highest prevalence of the disease. Of those aged 40 or higher, the risk also becomes higher.

The researchers gathered that 2.1 percent of those affected included population between 20 years old and 39 years old were affected by COPD. However, oddly enough, COPD was found more commonly among rural residents than those in an urban area.  

The researchers also put forth a number of different theories as to why certain people were affected by COPD and why others weren't. Those non-smokers who still developed COPD could have gotten the illness through the air pollution, chronic cough during childhood, or have a parental history of respiratory diseases. The researchers also believe that low bodyweights could also play a role in who is affected by COPD. 

The Tulane team encourages better national public health strategies in China specifically targeting COPD. They also want to see a stricter control of ambient air pollution -- something the Chinese government has been implementing within the last several years. COPD screenings and open discussion and education surrounding the disease could also help high-risk individuals take care of themselves earlier. 

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