Objective: To obtain reference standards for ventilatory function of clinically well Australian Aboriginal adults.
Design: A cross-sectional assessment of the population of a North Queensland Aboriginal community.
Setting: A specialist clinical and public health service. The measurements were made with the cooperation of the local primary health care centre.
Participants: The 288 study subjects included over 70% of Aboriginal adults residing in an isolated Cape York community. Those with known respiratory disease, abnormal chest x-ray findings, positive loose cough sign, abnormal lung signs or inability to perform the ventilatory tests satisfactorily were excluded; 229 persons (80%) remained for analysis. Smoking was prevalent in both men (85%) and women (76%). As in most other studies producing reference values for lung function, smokers were not excluded.
Main outcome measures: Age, standing height in bare feet and sitting height were recorded. Ventilatory measurements included forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC) and maximum mid-expiratory flow (MMEF) which is also known as the forced expiratory flow (FEF 25%-75%).
Results: Standing height, age and sex were the major determinants of ventilatory function. Sitting height was not a good predictor. Ventilatory values differed significantly from those expected for Europeans: Aboriginal lung volumes were much smaller (by about 25%) and fell much faster with age. The age-related decrease in lung function was less in smokers.
Conclusion: The smoking effect may reflect the operation of differential survival or other selective factors and has been noted in some other ethnic groups. Although previous studies have yielded some ventilatory function data on Aborigines, we report the first population-based reference values expected for clinically well adults. The information will be useful to clinicians and public health workers.