Background: A number of historical studies have suggested that early life deprivation increases the risk of developing COPD in adult life, but whether this is still true now that living conditions have improved is not known. The aim of this study is to quantify the current association between adult height (a maker of socioeconomic status in early life) and COPD, and to determine how this varies by age.
Methods: We obtained data on 1,204,110 people (aged over 35yrs old) from The Health Improvement Network - a general practice database. We used a cross-sectional analysis to quantify the odds of having doctor diagnosed COPD in relation to height using logistic regression.
Results: In our dataset we had information on adult height for 1,025,662 (85%) people and of these 2.7% had a diagnosis of COPD. The risk of having COPD decreased with each increase in quintile of height - odds ratio 0.90 (95% confidence interval 0.89 to 0.91). There was evidence of effect modification by age group such that this association was strongest in people aged 35 to 49 years (odds ratio 0.86, 95% confidence interval 0.82 to 0.89) and decreased progressively with age.
Conclusions: The risk of developing COPD is still strongly associated with adult height. This association is strongest in the youngest age category suggesting that early life experience will remain an important risk factor for COPD for some time to come and possibly that COPD related to early life deprivation is more severe and tends to present at a younger age.
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