Understanding Socioeconomic and Racial Differences in Adult Lung Function

The idea that differences in normal lung functioning reflect racial characteristics is well established in respiratory medicine and epidemiology. However, two “fundamental issues” surround lung function and epidemiologic research:

  1. Social and environmental factors associated with race—rather than race itself—including socioeconomic status, may affect development of lung function and influence its decline over time.
  2. Studies in the past have excluded smokers and as such create artificial groups that do not account for environmental exposures to air pollution, and other unmeasured confounders such as physical activity and medical care.

To determine to what extent socioeconomic factors affect racial differences in lung function, these researchers used data from the Third National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey. They looked at the relationship among race, high school completion and lung function for African-Americans and Whites.

They found that high school completion is associated with increased lung function in men and women, with significant racial differences, the effect being more pronounced for Whites than Blacks.

The authors believe their analysis has identified several shortcomings in current approaches to the relationship among socioeconomic status, race and lung function and that more attention should be paid to the methodologies used to analyze lung function across populations.