Canadian Lung Association Blog

Guest post from Dr. Mark Fenton: Research on lung volume in First Nations people

The measurement of how much air you can breathe in and out is a very helpful
tool to diagnose lung disorders. The size of your lungs is influenced by age,
sex, height and ethnicity. When deciding if a person’s lung volume is normal or
not, the measurements are compared to what would be expected based on the
person’s age, sex, height and ethnicity.

There is information available on what lung volumes are expected for white
people, black people and Asian people but none is available for First Nations
people. As a result, lung function in First Nations people is compared to
expected values for white people. We suspected that First Nations people have
larger lungs. If this suspicion is correct, then using expected values for
white people to assess the lung tests from First Nations people might result in
under-diagnosis of some conditions or over-diagnosis of others. In either
case, this means that optimal care is not being delivered.

A research partnership was established with Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre
which represents seven First Nations communities in Saskatchewan. To date, 218
adults have volunteered to participate in a research study where we measured
lung volumes.

We found that the use of Caucasian predicted values for assessment of lung
volumes in Saskatchewan First Nations adults appears to underestimate lung
volume. Even though the number of participants was smaller than we had planned,
the difference is significant. The higher than expected lung volumes found in
this group is even more remarkable because the group included many participants
who smoke or used to smoke, and participants with lung symptoms such as
coughing and being short of breath.

These early results show that there is a need for more First Nations people to
participate in such studies so that lung tests in First Nations people can be
interpreted correctly. Since lung diseases are more common among First Nations
people, it is very important to be able to interpret the results of lung teats
as precisely as possible.


Dr. Mark Fenton is a Respirologist in the Division of Respirology, Critical
Care and Sleep Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. He presented the
preliminary results of this study at the American Thoracic Society
International Conference in San Diego in May 2014.

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