Socioeconomic Status is Positively Associated with Percent Emphysema on CT Scan. The MESA Lung Study

Gina S. Lovasi*, Ana V. Diez Roux, Eric A. Hoffman, Lewis J. Smith, Rui Jiang, J. Jeffrey Carr, R. Graham Barr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Rationale and Objectives: Higher socioeconomic status (SES) has been associated with lower respiratory mortality and better lung function, but whether a similar gradient exists for computed tomography (CT) measures of subclinical emphysema is unknown. Materials and Methods: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) recruited African-American, Chinese, Hispanic, and white participants, ages 45 to 84 years, without clinical cardiovascular disease, from six US sites between 2000 and 2002. The MESA Lung Study assessed percent emphysema, defined based on the proportion of pixels below an attenuation threshold of 910 HU from lung windows of cardiac CT scans. Generalized linear models were adjusted for demographic characteristics, height, body mass index, history of respiratory illness, occupational and residential exposures, tobacco use, and CT scanner type. Results: Among 3706 participants with a mean age of 61 (±10), the median value for percent emphysema was 18 (interquartile range = 20). Compared with those who did not complete high school, participants with a graduate degree had a higher percent emphysema (difference of 4; P < 001). Income and wealth were also positively associated with percent emphysema. In contrast, higher SES was associated with better lung function. Descriptive and subgroup analyses were used to explore potential explanations for divergent results, including the possibility that suboptimal inspiration during CT scanning would decrease percent emphysema, making the lungs appear healthier when effort is relatively poor. Conclusion: Although SES indicators were positively associated with subclinical emphysema detectable on CT scan, this unexpected association may highlight potential bias because of effort dependence of both CT measures and spirometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-204
Number of pages6
JournalAcademic radiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Emphysema
  • Epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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