The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) has defined stage I chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as forced expiratory volume in one second/forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC)% <70% and a FEV1% predicted of >80%. Stage 2 has been defined as FEV1/FVC <70% and a FEV1% pred of <80%. The authors examined the extent of COPD misdiagnosis using this definition in healthy, never-smoker, asymptomatic adults aged >70 yrs in Bergen, Norway. A respiratory questionnaire was mailed to a random sample of 2,871 persons aged >70 yrs. In a random, well-defined subgroup of 208 never-smoker respondents with no current respiratory disease and significant dyspnoea or heart disease/hypertension complicated with dyspnoea, 71 were able to perform an acceptable spirometry. Approximately 35% of these healthy, elderly never-smokers had an FEV1/FVC% of <70% and would be classified as having at least a stage 1 COPD. This percentage increased with age and in those aged >80 yrs approximately 50% would be classified as having COPD and approximately one-third would have an FEV1 of <80% pred (stage 2 COPD). The estimated 5th percentile of FEV1 was consistently <80% pred. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease criteria will probably lead to a significant degree of over-diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in those aged >70 yrs. The criteria used to define the various stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease need to be age-specific.