Performance of American Thoracic Society-recommended spirometry reference values in a multiethnic sample of adults: the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis (MESA) lung study

Chest. 2010 Jan;137(1):138-45. doi: 10.1378/chest.09-0919. Epub 2009 Sep 9.


Background: The American Thoracic Society recommends race-specific spirometric reference values from the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) III for clinical evaluation of pulmonary function in whites, African-Americans, and Mexican-Americans in the United States and a correction factor of 0.94 for Asian-Americans. We aimed to validate the NHANES III reference equations and the correction factor for Asian-Americans in an independent, multiethnic sample of US adults.

Methods: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) recruited self-identified non-Hispanic white, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American participants aged 45 to 84 years at six US sites. The MESA-Lung Study assessed prebronchodilator spirometry among 3,893 MESA participants who performed acceptable tests, of whom 1,068 were asymptomatic healthy nonsmokers who performed acceptable spirometry.

Results: The 1,068 participants were mean age 65 +/- 10 years, 60% female, 25% white, 20% African-American, 23% Hispanic, and 32% Asian-American. Observed values of FEV(1), FEV(6), and FVC among whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics of Mexican origin in MESA-Lung were slightly lower than predicted values based on NHANES III. Observed values among Hispanics of non-Mexican origin were consistently lower. Agreement in classification of participants with airflow obstruction based on lower limit of normal criteria was good (overall kappa = 0.88). For Asian-Americans, a correction factor of 0.88 was more accurate than 0.94.

Conclusions: The NHANES III reference equations are valid for use among older adults who are white, African-American, or Hispanic of Mexican origin. Comparison of white and Asian-American participants suggests that a correction factor of 0.88, applied to the predicted and lower limits of normal values, is more appropriate than the currently recommended value of 0.94.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atherosclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Atherosclerosis / ethnology
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Lung Diseases / ethnology
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Societies, Medical / standards*
  • Spirometry / standards*
  • United States / epidemiology