Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) Initiative sites worldwide. To measure the prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and its risk factors, investigate variation in prevalence across countries and develop standardized methods that can be used in industrialized and developing countries. Non-institutionalized adults aged > or =40 years were recruited using population-based sampling plans. Each site targeted a minimum of 600 participants (300 women, 300 men), who filled out questionnaires and performed spirometry before and after administration of 200 mug salbutamol using standardized methods. Random effects meta-analysis models were used to estimate pooled prevalence estimates and risk factor effects and to test for heterogeneity across sites and sex. Data published from 12 sites (n = 8775) showed that the estimated population prevalence of COPD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease [GOLD] Stage II and higher) was 10.1 +/- SE = 4.8% overall (11.8 +/- 7.9% for men and 8.5 +/- 5.8% for women). Prevalence increased with age and pack-years of smoking, but other less understood risk factors, such as biomass heating and cooking exposures, occupational exposures and tuberculosis, also contribute to the location-specific variations in disease prevalence that BOLD is finding. BOLD has estimated the social and economic burden of COPD in 12 countries to date. BOLD and the Proyecto Latinoamericano de Investigación en Obstrucción Pulmonar (the PLATINO study) are developing a growing database of COPD prevalence. Cigarette smoking and age are the most important COPD risk factors, but other risk factors should also be explored.