We conducted a controlled study of the impact of an education program on the health outcomes and perceptions of patients with varying degrees of airway obstruction in two communities. In one community, patients with chronic obstructive airway disease (COAD) were identified, assessed and offered an educational program. In the other community, patients were identified, assessed and advised of the findings only. Patients at both sites were given the same pretest and, one year later, the same posttest. These tests measured physical and social function, and health outcomes (eg, respiratory symptoms, exercise tolerance, mental health), plus patients' health perceptions. Posttest results showed a significant difference between groups on a health perception measure and locus of control, but no difference on health outcomes. We conclude that education programs for COAD are unlikely to improve patients' health status unless they are part of a comprehensive medical program that includes physical reconditioning.