Prevalence of obstructive lung diseases and respiratory symptoms in relation to living environment and socio-economic group

Respir Med. 2001 Sep;95(9):744-52. doi: 10.1053/rmed.2001.1129.


We wanted to test whether living environment, occupation and social position are risk factors for asthma and chronic bronchitis/emphysema (CBE). The prevalence of bronchial asthma, CBE, respiratory symptoms and smoking habits in a random sample of 12,071 adults aged 20-59 years was assessed in a postal survey with a slightly modified questionnaire previously used in central and northern Sweden (The OLIN studies). Occupation was coded according to a socio-economic classification system. Six different living environment areas were defined; city-countryside, seaside-not seaside and living close to heavy traffic-not living close to heavy traffic. Multiple logistic regression analysis (forward conditional) was applied to estimate the association between the proposed set of risk factors and self-reported obstructive lung diseases and lower respiratory symptoms controlling for age, gender and smoking. After two reminders, the response rate was 70.1% (n=8469); 33.8% of the responders were smokers. In all, 469 subjects (5.5%) stated that they had asthma and 4.6% reported CBE. Besides smoking, which was a risk for both asthma and CBE, there were different risk patterns for self-reported asthma and CBE. In the economically active population there was a tendency that CBE was more common among 'unskilled and semi-skilled workers'. This fact was further emphasized when the population was merged into the two groups 'low social position' and 'middle/high social position', with 'low social position' as a risk for CBE (OR=1.35, 95% CI=1.06-1.72). No social risk factors were identified for asthma. Living close to heavy traffic was a risk factor for asthma (OR=1.29, 95% CI=1.02-1.62) but not for CBE. Apart from this no living environmental risk factors for obstructive pulmonary diseases were identified. Asthma symptoms and long-standing cough were more common among those subjects living close to heavy traffic compared to those not living close to heavy traffic. To conclude, low social position was a risk factor for CBE and living close to heavy traffic was a risk factor for asthma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Health
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Social Class*
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Urban Health


  • Air Pollutants