Lung deaths and smoking diseases spike among impoverished populations

The number of Americans dying due to a chronic respiratory disease has increased by 30 percent in 34 years mainly among the poverty-stricken populations, according to a report by The Daily Mail.

The researchers behind the University of Washington study analyzed the death records for chronic respiratory diseases from 1980 to 2014 from the United States Census Bureau. From about 41 deaths out of every 100,000 people in 1980, the number of deaths increased to approximately 53 for every 100,000 people in 2014. The total number of deaths due to chronic respiratory diseases reached more than 4.6 million in 34 years. These diseases include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, interstitial lung disease, pulmonary sarcoidosis, and pneumoconiosis.

The study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed that the reason behind the increase in the country’s mortality rate is because of the 224 percent increase in deaths in the poverty-stricken populations in the south, along the Appalachian Trail. The majority of states in the U.S. have witnessed an increase in the number of deaths. Conversely, researchers saw that there was a decline in mortality rates among the rich seven percent of the country.

COPD accounts for almost four million, or 85 percent of, deaths throughout the study time period, making it the most deadly, compared to the 403,168 deaths from interstitial lung disease, and 157,066 deaths from asthma. Meanwhile, other chronic respiratory diseases accounted for 56,994 deaths since 1980.

Lead author of the study Laura Dwyer-Lindgren said that they could not figure out why the mortality rate had dramatically increased. Yet, she noted that death rates and changes in death rates over time were different among counties for all various kinds of chronic respiratory diseases.

Residents from Appalachia had the most deaths accounted to COPD and pneumoconiosis, which is a disease caused by particle inhalations. Deaths caused by asthma were largely seen in Appalachia, specifically along the southern half of the Mississippi River, Georgia, and South Carolina. Interstitial lung disease and pulmonary sarcoidosis posed the biggest risk in the Southwest, New England, and the northern Great Plains, which include North Dakota. Other chronic respiratory illnesses were largely traced in the South, from Mississippi to South Carolina.

Meanwhile, the researchers also noted that the death rate for the respiratory diseases was at the highest in 2002 with 55 out of 100,000, and then declined to nearly 53 in 2014.

Dwyer-Lindgren said that this is a result of the drop in smoking rates, as reported in (Related: Cigarette taxes cause individuals to smoke less, study finds.)

“Tobacco smoking is a major contributor to chronic respiratory disease mortality…but there is often a substantial lag between initiating smoking and experiencing negative health outcomes, so the increase and peak in smoking prevalence that occurred decades ago were reflected in the increase and peak in chronic respiratory disease mortality more recently,” explained Dwyer-Lindgren. “Continued effort to reduce smoking by preventing initiation and promoting cessation are important to continue this trend.”

Dwyer-Lindgern said that this is particularly true in areas where smoking popularity is still high.

Tobacco smoke, whether active smoking or secondhand smoke, is the primary cause of COPD. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 90 percent of COPD deaths happen in low and middle-income countries, wherein strategies for effective prevention and control are not usually carried out or accessible.

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