Who gets COPD?

COPD predominantly affects middle aged and older people

The development of COPD occurs over many years and therefore affects mainly middle aged and older people while asthma affects people of all ages. The prevalence of COPD increases with age, mostly occurring in people aged 45 and over.

The prevalence (the number of cases present in the population at a given time) of COPD is difficult to determine from routine health surveys. Since COPD is formally defined in terms of an abnormality of lung function, accurately estimating the prevalence of the disease requires clinical testing.

In the 2014–15 ABS National Health Survey (NHS), the prevalence of COPD (captured here as self-reported emphysema and/or bronchitis) in Australians aged 45 and over was 5.1%, an estimated 460,400 people [2]. The prevalence did not differ significantly between males and females (5.2% and 4.9% respectively).

A large international study (Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD)) tested the lung function of nearly 10,000 people. BOLD estimated the overall prevalence of COPD in 12 countries to be 10% for people aged 40 and over. In Australia, the prevalence of COPD was estimated to be 7.5% for people aged 40 years and over and 30% for people aged 75 and over [3].

Figure 1: Prevalence of COPD, ages 45+, by age, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows the prevalence of self-reported COPD increased with increasing age, and was highest among those aged 75 and over (9%25), compared to those aged 65–74 (7%25) and 55–64 (5%25). The overall prevalence of COPD among people ages 45 and over was 5%25.


  1. COPD here refers to self-reported doctor-diagnosed current and long-term bronchitis and/or emphysema.

  2. COPD occurs mostly in people aged 45 and over. While it is occasionally reported in younger age groups, in those aged 45 and over there is more certainty that the condition is COPD and not another respiratory condition. For this reason only people aged 45 and over are included in this graph.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata, National Health Survey (NHS) 2014–15 (Data table).

COPD is more common among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

COPD affects an estimated 8.8% of Indigenous Australians aged 45 and over—approximately 10,300 people [1], based on self-reported data, although this is likely to be an underestimate. The prevalence of COPD (across all age groups) among Indigenous Australians is 2.5 times as high as the prevalence for non-Indigenous Australians after adjusting for differences in age structure [1].


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: First Results, Australia, 2012–13. ABS cat. no. 4727.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
  2. ABS 2016. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014–15. ABS Cat no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
  3. Toelle BG, Xuan W, Bird TE, Abramson MJ, Atkinson DN, Burton DL et al. 2013. Respiratory symptoms and illness in older Australians: the Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) study. Medical Journal of Australia 198:144–8.