BACKGROUND: Despite the great burden of chronic respiratory diseases in China, few large multicentre, spirometry-based studies have examined its prevalence, rate of underdiagnosis regionally or the relevance of socioeconomic and lifestyle factors.
METHODS: We analysed data from 512 891 adults in the China Kadoorie Biobank, recruited from 10 diverse regions of China during 2004-2008. Air flow obstruction (AFO) was defined by the lower limit of normal criteria based on spirometry-measured lung function. The prevalence of AFO was analysed by region, age, socioeconomic status, body mass index (BMI) and smoking history and compared with the prevalence of self-reported physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis or emphysema (CB/E) and its symptoms.
FINDINGS: The prevalence of AFO was 7.3% in men (range 2.5-18.2%) and 6.4% in women (1.5-18.5%). Higher prevalence of AFO was associated with older age (p<0.0001), lower income (p<0.0001), poor education (p<0.001), living in rural regions (p<0.001), those who started smoking before the age of 20 years (p<0.001) and low BMI (p<0.001). Compared with self-reported diagnosis of CB/E, 88.8% of AFO was underdiagnosed; underdiagnosis proportion was highest in 30-39-year olds (96.7%) compared with the 70+ age group (81.1%), in women (90.7%), in urban areas (89.4%), in people earning 5K-10 K ¥ monthly (90.3%) and in those with middle or high school education (92.6%).
INTERPRETATION: In China, the burden of AFO based on spirometry was high and significantly greater than that estimated based on self-reported physician-diagnosed CB/E, especially in rural areas, reflecting major issues with diagnosis of AFO that will impact disease treatment and management.