After comparing equations for pulmonary function tests, which assess lung function, researchers found that more Black adults were likely to show early indicators of disease when a race-neutral equation was used compared to a race-specific equation. Conversely, the race-neutral equation resulted in more white adults being less likely to show signs of respiratory problems. The study, supported by NHLBI, published in JAMA Network Open.
Distinctions between having normal lung function or indicators of disease can have broad implications, which is why researchers have been studying how to optimize race-neutral equations. For example, patients recategorized as having elevated risks for lung disease may receive a diagnosis and be treated earlier for conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In other cases, they may meet criteria for or be more likely to be considered for receiving a lung transplant. However, overestimating impaired lung function could be prohibitive. In some cases, this could prevent people from receiving medical clearance to participate in physical activities.
Taking these factors into account, the authors conclude that more work is needed to identify pulmonary function test equations that would reduce health disparities and help more people with lung disease receive the right diagnosis and treatment.