10 Links Between Poverty and COPD

by John Bottrell Health Professional

Research published in January, 2014, suggests an inverse relationship with Gross National Income (GNI) and the incidence of COPD. Data from 170 countries showed the incidence of COPD was highest in areas where the GNI was below $15,000. The data seems to confirm a suspected link between COPD and poverty.

This information noted, we thought we'd list 10 possible reasons why those in poverty may be at an increased risk for developing COPD, or at an increased risk for having COPD flare-ups.

1. Tobacco smoke. CNN reported in 2014 that as smoking rates have declined in more affluent areas, they have stayed relatively unchanged in poor and working class areas. The report quotes a study showing cigarette companies advertise cheaper cigarettes in such areas. Being that studies overwhelmingly show that cigarette smoking is responsible for about 80 percent of COPD cases, it only makes sense the impoverished would have a greater incidence of COPD.

2. Wood Smoke. Studies seem to suggest this may be just as harmful to airways as tobacco smoke. It contains many of the same chemicals and irritants contained in tobacco smoke. Studies have linked it with both asthma and COPD. Wood as a source of heating and cooking seems to be more prevalent in impoverished neighborhoods and underdeveloped nations. It’s a significant source of both indoor and outdoor air pollution in such areas.

3. Occupations. Those in poverty are more likely to take on high risk jobs. This may expose them to harmful chemicals, irritants or fumes that may harm airways, cause COPD flare-ups, and even cause COPD.

4. Crowding. Too many people in small, enclosed rooms may increase the risk of spreading germs that cause infections. This is even more important during winter months when doors and windows are closed and homes are heated and poorly ventilated. Respiratory infections may trigger asthma attacks and COPD flare-ups.

5. Education. Lack of access to education, or lacking the time to educate one's self, may cause impoverished people to expose themselves to situations that the educated would otherwise avoid. This may explain why smoking rates are higher in impoverished areas.

6. Stress. Of course, another reason explaining high smoking rates may be pressure caused by poverty. Lacking the ability to support yourself and your family may result in stress leading to risky behaviors such as smoking cigarettes. Stress may also trigger flare-ups, result in poor compliance with medicine, and result in poor COPD control.

7. Housing. Older homes, or homes in poor repair, may increase exposure to mold due to water leaks and humid basements. Mold spores can get into the air inhaled and trigger COPD flare-ups. Dust mites thrive in warm and humid environments, and feed off flakes of skin that land on pillows, mattresses, and upholstered furniture. Lack of money may make it difficult, if not impossible, to remedy these problem areas.

8. Crowding. People with limited resourses are increasingly likely to shack up with other people in similar situations. Many people in closed in spaces can create a breeding ground for germs that may cause respiratory infections. Sneezing and coughing can help them spread from person to person. This is compounded when the heat is on and all the doors and windows are closed. Lung infections are a major source of COPD flare-ups.

9. Poor nutrition. A simple way of staying healthy is by eating a healthy diet. This may be difficult if you don’t have the funds to afford healthy foods. Or, worse, if you cannot afford food altogether. Proper nutrition is essential to maintaining healthy lungs. Proper nutritian is also necessary so you have the strength to stay active and reduce loss of muscle mass caused by sedentary living. Those in poverty are also more likely to eat at affordable fast food restaurants like McDonald’s. This is not good, as high fat foods have been linked to asthma, and of course asthma is linked to COPD.

10. Healthcare. Many governments have attempted to make healthcare more affordable. Sometimes, however, even affordable healthcare isn’t so affordable. Also posing a problem here is poor awareness of healthcare options, poor access to physicians, and poor access to funds needed to pay for COPD medicine, which tends to be rather expensive.

What does this mean? It means that those in poverty are at an increased risk for developing lung diseases like COPD. This spotlights the ongoing need for governments to create economic environments that encourage economic growth and prosperity. It also spotlights the need for creating programs to help those in poverty gain access to healthier neighborhoods, healthier homes, health care education, health care coverage, physicians, and medicine.

You may also enjoy reading:

Links Between Asthma and COPD

High Fat Foods May Trigger Asthma

Is It A Cold Or Allergies Triggering Your Asthma

Links Between Mold And Asthma

Dusts Mites May Trigger Asthma and COPD

Why Are COPD Inhalers So Expensive, And What Can You Do About It?

Gold: COPD Guidelines, page 21

RT Magazine: Study Identifies Link Between Poverty And COPD Mortality

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).