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New Data Reveals Public Ignorance About The Impact Of Lung Disease

New data released by the Forum of (FIRS) to coincide with World Day today has revealed a lack of understanding and concern among the public about the world’s biggest killer[1] – lung disease, which now claims the lives of almost 4 million people a year[2].

Despite the high incidence of lung disease, research conducted by YouGov across four continents revealed that people are more worried about cancer, heart disease and stroke[3]. This lack of concern is even more striking as data shows that while the other major diseases have been decreasing as a cause of death in the last three decades, death due to has doubled in the same period.

As well as underestimating the impact of lung disease, the public poll reveals a lack of understanding about how to manage it. Despite the fact that simple lung tests like spirometry can help detect conditions such as COPD and asthma before the onset of debilitating symptoms, the survey revealed that the majority, 57%, of respondents have never had their lungs tested.

The research also revealed that 70% thought that those with lung disease were unable to undertake even moderate exercise like swimming. However, in reality, physical activity can help to manage and improve the symptoms of lung disease such as breathlessness, even in the most severe cases.

As the world gears up to the Olympics, FIRS is using the data to urge people to get their lungs tested and to get active to improve their lung health. On World Spirometry Day, and throughout the build up to the Olympics, healthcare professionals will be taking to the streets across the globe to run public lung testing events to raise awareness of spirometry testing. The test, which usually takes less than 10 minutes[4], is the most effective way of testing lung health.

The Chair of FIRS and President of the European Respiratory Society (ERS), Klaus Rabe, said:

is a major health issue but – as the FIRS poll shows – its burden continues to be underestimated. There is widespread ignorance not only around the seriousness of lung disease but about what can be done to prevent it. As countries across the world celebrate the achievements of the world’s best athletes – we feel the time is right to focus on how we can all improve our lung health.

Supporters include Norwegian Olympic rower, Olaf Tufte, who has won two gold and one silver medal, despite suffering from severe allergic asthma:

“I am determined not to let my asthma limit me or restrict my ambitions. Instead, I see it as one challenge among many that I need to master in order to come top in my sport. People with lung conditions can lead healthy, active lives – if they take steps to ensure their condition is identified early enough and treated well.”


1. World Health Organization, Top Ten Causes of Death, Fact Sheet no. 310. Last accessed on 18.04.12, When all lung diseases (Lower respiratory infections, , (COPD) and tuberculosis) are combined, lung diseases are the leading cause of death.

2. NCD Alliance, Chronic Respiratory Diseases, last accessed on 07.03.12

3. The most feared diseases (in order) are: Cancer (38%), Heart Disease (19%), and Stroke (9%). Source YouGov Survey, May 2012

4. European Lung Foundation, Spirometry Factsheet

Source: Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS)