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First Time Data Analysis Reveals 1.1 Million Californians Have Been Diagnosed With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

November 01, 2012

Nearly 200,000 in Los Angeles County Have the Incurable Condition; Most are Women, Many Under 45

LOS ANGELES, CA – An estimated 1.1 million Californians, with nearly 200,000 in Los Angeles County, have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), according to the first research of its kind by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research along with Survey Research Group, a project of the Public Health Institute (PHI).

“BREATHE LA (BLA) funded the UCLA research to fill a significant gap in the understanding of COPD’s impact in California. We now know COPD prevalence in the state is more complex than many people realize,” said Enrique Chiock, BLA President and CEO. “Preliminary findings reveal that a significant number of people in California diagnosed with COPD have never smoked, are under the age of 45, and are women, providing a striking contrast to the perception that the disease is only a “smokers” condition affecting men and older people.”

For the first time, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, funded by the Centers for Disease Control in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health and PHI, included detailed survey questions about COPD in California, which served as a basis for the UCLA research. Statewide, the actual prevalence of COPD may be twice the 1.1 million people diagnosed, and the number in Los Angeles County is likely double the 200,000 identified in the survey. The socio-demographic and health care access information provided in the UCLA study will enable BREATHE LA to more precisely focus its early detection and treatment programs in order to better educate COPD patients about the disease and provide ways to improve their quality of life.

“COPD progressively destroys the lungs and has no cure. Mortality rates continue to rise, yet many people with COPD are undiagnosed or are unaware of the lifestyle changes needed to manage the condition and improve their quality of life,” said leading pulmonologist Dr. Guy Soo Hoo, a former BREATHE LA Board Chair. “This data gives BREATHE LA hard numbers to show to policy makers and the medical community that we are in the midst of a public health crisis. The cost of COPD to our economy and to our healthcare industry needs to be mitigated through prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment. This data shows us the enormity of the need.”

BREATHE LA will share this new data analysis with public officials as part of their advocacy efforts for prevention, early detection, treatment research, and funding. According to National Institute of Health findings, despite nearly 140,000 annual COPD deaths, government funding for disease research and programs is dwarfed by funding for other diseases, such as AIDS/HIV. For example, funding for AIDS/HIV research and programs is nearly 30 times greater than that for COPD, even though COPD claims nearly 15 times as many lives each year.

BREATHE LA is assertively reaching out to public officials to inform them about the latest data associated with this lung health crisis. BLA representatives recently met with Congressman Henry A. Waxman, D-California, a longtime advocate of lung health who led the charge to keep cigarettes away from kids and helped to strengthen the Clean Air Act. Rep. Waxman is firm in his belief that lung health issues are a priority.

“The increase in COPD is yet another result of tobacco’s harmful effects and the dangers of polluted air.  COPD is now the third leading cause of death nationwide. An estimated 12 million Americans are diagnosed with the disease and another 12 million may be affected by the disease but are undiagnosed. Californians, especially those of us from Los Angeles, know firsthand how important it is to have clean air to breathe.” Rep. Waxman said. “I will continue my ongoing efforts to address the primary causes of COPD – killer tobacco and dirty air. And, I am encouraged that organizations like BREATHE LA are passionate about doing the same.” 

BREATHE LA’s funding supported the efforts of the UCLA research team to paint a picture of COPD in the state and in Southern California. The UCLA report, which will be released later this year, will be important for the understanding of the current status of how COPD is diagnosed and treated in the region. For example, preliminary analyses show approximately one-third of those diagnosed with COPD never received a spirometry test, even though this is the only approved method for diagnosing COPD.

“COPD remains a significant public health burden. There is still ample room for improvement in adherence to primary prevention and treatment,” said Dr. Ying-Ying Meng, lead author of the report and Co-Director, of the Chronic Disease Program at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “Our findings highlight the need to incorporate prevention, early diagnosis and treatment strategies that aim at reducing activity limitations, emergency department visits and mortality due to COPD.”

The preliminary data analysis will be discussed in detail as part of BREATHE LA’s “Living Well with COPD” Fourth COPD Conference on November 14 (World COPD Awareness Day) held at the USC Health Sciences Campus Aresty Auditorium in Los Angeles. The Conference will feature presentations on new approaches to address the disease, promoting early diagnosis, treatment, and self-management. A focus of the conference will be to improve patient treatment by emphasizing evidenced-based wellness approaches through a continuum of care. 

In addition to the report, conference participants will learn about BREATHE LA’s COPD advocacy, education and support efforts, including community workshops and the Better Breathers Club™ support program for people suffering from COPD. For more information about the conference and to register to attend, visit http://www.breathela.org/COPDConference2012.


BREATHE LA’s focus on COPD is driven by its Board of Directors, which includes researchers and medical professionals in The Trudeau Society, a leading pulmonologist group. BREATHE LA targets outreach and education efforts through community health fairs and the Better Breathers Clubs™ program in neighborhoods of Los Angeles County that are most affected. This effort provides education, services, and support groups primarily to people living with COPD to improve health outcomes and quality of life. Through a partnership with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, BREATHE LA established a COPD Regional Center in the western U.S. to raise COPD awareness and share best practices among health service providers.

About COPD

COPD is a combination of lung damage and mucus buildup that makes it hard to breathe. It can include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and sometimes adult asthma. This progressive and incurable disease destroys the lungs and is often responsible for the end of life. COPD can be managed to slow the progression of the disease. 

The most common cause of COPD is smoking, though exposure to secondhand smoke is also a major factor. In addition, long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as pollution, chemical fumes or dust, sometimes present in work environments, may also lead to the disease. A rare genetic condition, known as alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency, is also known to cause the disease.

COPD is diagnosed with a simple spirometry test, which shows how much air an individual’s lungs hold and how quickly each person can exhale. To be tested, health care providers will ask patients to breathe into a spirometer as hard and as long as they can.  Spirometry should be a routine procedure for patients at risk, but unfortunately this diagnostic tool remains under-utilized.

Media Contact:

Robert Gard
323-687-4998 (mobile

Neal Richman
323-935-8050 ext. 231


The Survey Research Group (SRG) is a section under the California Department of Public Health’s Cancer Surveillance and Research Branch and a project of the Public Health Institute. SRG specializes in conducting scientific health-related surveys, including the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health. For more information, go to www.surveyresearchgroup.org.

BREATHE California of Los Angeles County (BREATHE LA) is non-profit public benefit organization dedicated to the future of clean air and healthy lungs in Los Angeles County. BREATHE LA was established in 1903 and has over a century of accomplishments. Our mission is to promote clean air and healthy lungs through research, education, technology and advocacy.   For more information, go to www.BreatheLA.org.