Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a leading cause of death, particularly in developing countries. Little is known about the effects of economic development on COPD mortality, although economic development may potentially have positive and negative influences over the life course on COPD. We took advantage of a unique population whose rapid and recent economic development is marked by changes at clearly delineated and identifiable time points, and where few women smoke, to examine the effect of macro-level events on COPD mortality.
We used Poisson regression to decompose sex-specific COPD mortality rates in Hong Kong from 1981 to 2005 into the effects of age, period and cohort.
COPD mortality declined strongly over generations for people born from the early to mid 20th century, which was particularly evident for the first generation to grow up in a more economically developed environment for both sexes. Population wide COPD mortality decreased when air quality improved and increased with increasing air pollution. COPD mortality increased with age, particularly after menopause among women.
Economic development may reduce vulnerability to COPD by reducing long-lasting insults to the respiratory system, such as infections, poor nutrition and indoor air pollution. However, some of these gains may be offset if economic development results in increasing air pollution or increasing smoking.