Studies suggest that COPD prevalence may vary between countries. We conducted an ecological study of data from COPD prevalence articles to assess the influence of differences in country-level risk factors on COPD prevalence.
Our study covered English language articles published during 2003–2014. Qualified articles used spirometry to assess COPD prevalence and used representative samples from national or subnational populations. Stepwise binomial regression was used to analyze associations between study- and country-level factors and COPD prevalence.
Eighty articles provided 1,583 measures of COPD prevalence for subjects in different sex, age, and smoking categories for 112 districts in 41 countries. Adjusted prevalence rates for COPD were significantly lower for Australia/New Zealand and the Mediterranean and significantly higher for Latin America, compared to North America, Southeast Asia, and Northern Europe. Country-level socioeconomic development variables had an uneven and mixed association with COPD prevalence. High elevation above sea level was shown to be a protective factor for COPD. Study-level variables for the established risk factors of sex, age, and smoking explained 64% of variability in COPD prevalence. Country-level risk factors raised the explanatory power to 72%. Approximately 28% of worldwide variability in COPD prevalence remained unexplained.