Illustration of lungs filled with silhouettes of people in shades of blue.

Making Healthier Lives for People with COPD

It’s a fact: More than 16 million Americans are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe and worsens over time. An umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis, COPD is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, but it affects some groups particularly hard. Women, people exposed to pollutants at work, rural communities, and some communities of color are heavily impacted by the disease.

Each November, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Learn More Breathe Better® program joins the COPD community to mark National COPD Awareness Month and World COPD Day. In November and all year long, Learn More Breathe Better brings attention to this progressive condition that many don’t even know they have. Promoting more awareness of COPD is an important part of efforts to diagnose and treat the disease earlier, which can help people manage it better.

One way Learn More Breathe Better raises COPD awareness in groups most at risk is through its Community Subcontract Program. The program awards funding to organizations working toward the goals of the COPD National Action Plan, particularly the goals focused on building awareness and improving patient care. Three organizations received funding for the 2022-2023 program cycle: The Allergy & Asthma Network; Breathe California of the Bay Area, Golden Gate, and Central Coast; and Respiratory Health Association.

The Allergy & Asthma Network works to reduce health disparities around asthma, COPD, and COVID-19. Its Not One More Life – Trusted Messengers program pays special attention to health inequities in Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans with lung conditions. The program works with professional organizations to find at-risk patients and connect them with support services. It also hosts events in Black and Hispanic/Latino communities around the country, offering education and conducting COPD screenings for those over age 35 who are at risk for COPD. People have the opportunity to enroll in a free 6-week telehealth program where coaches offer guidelines-based education to improve the participants' health and quality of life.

Breathe California of the Bay Area, Golden Gate, and Central Coast recognizes that culturally tailored outreach is a key to raising awareness about COPD in communities where many are at higher risk. The organization is working in rural populations on the West Coast with its Better Breathing with COPD in the Bay Area program. Through this program they are training community health workers, or promotoras, to deliver COPD education in lower-resourced, Spanish speaking communities. The promotoras connect with many agricultural workers who may have workplace exposures to dust and chemicals. They give virtual and in-person presentations on lung health and promote COPD awareness at health fairs and on the radio.

Respiratory Health Association focuses a special lens on women, who are more likely than men to have COPD – and also develop it earlier in life. The association’s WE CARE (Women Empowered through COPD Awareness and Respiratory health Education) program works to raise awareness about COPD in women and encourage earlier diagnosis. The two-part campaign includes patient-focused media materials and a provider-focused education series. The patient materials offer information about COPD signs and symptoms, smoking cessation, and available treatments. The provider education campaign includes videos on best practices for diagnosing and treating COPD in women and a community health worker training.

The COPD National Action Plan Community Action Tool

Since last year, these organizations and many more have been using the COPD National Action Plan Community Action Tool to document their work to improve the lives of people with COPD. The Community Action Tool is an online repository that showcases the collective progress in implementing the goals of the COPD National Action Plan. It helps the COPD community track progress, and it makes it easier to collaborate and learn from each other.

During National COPD Awareness Month and throughout the year, Learn More Breathe Better is committed to educating and empowering communities most at risk for COPD, those living with the disease, and those who care for them. Though there is no cure, early diagnosis and treatment can allow patients to improve their health, manage their condition, and thrive. For more information on the Community Subcontract Program, the Community Action Tool, and for educational resources on COPD, visit Learn More Breathe Better at