Even if you’ve never smoked a cigarette in your life, you could still develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) if you’re morbidly obese. In fact, you could be more like to develop the disease.
A study published November 20 in the Journal of Obesity shows that people who are morbidly obese have a much higher risk of developing COPD than normal-weight people who smoked.
Using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, researchers studied more than 110,000 non-Hispanic white adults age 50 and older.
Lead author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson reported: 
“Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is much more common among never-smoking older women who are morbidly obese (having a body mass index of 40 or higher) than among their female peers in the normal weight range (13.4% vs 3.5%, respectively). Morbidly obese older men who have never smoked also had a much higher prevalence of COPD than never-smoking men who were normal weight (7.6% vs 2.5%).”
Co-author Senyo Agbeyaka said in a statement:
“Surprisingly few studies have focused on never smoking COPD patients. We wanted to address this gap in the literature by examining which factors are associated with COPD among never-smokers aged 50 and older.”
COPD isn’t a single disease, but rather a group of lung disorders, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and refractory asthma, which make it difficult to breathe. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for COPD, but the study shows that 1/4 of those diagnosed with the disorder have never touched a cigarette.
What’s more, approximately 16 million people have COPD, while many more may have it without even knowing it, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The condition kills about 120,000 each year, although more women die from the disease than men.
COPD is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. 
Kaitlyn Howden, an MD candidate at McMaster University and co-author of the study, said:
“Unfortunately, the survey did not allow us to identify why older obese Americans who were never smokers had such a high prevalence of COPD. Future research is needed to investigate plausible mechanisms for this association, including the role of chronic inflammation associated with obesity and the impact of central obesity on respiratory system mechanics.”
There is a theory that chronic inflammation is at the root of most if not all leading diseases. Normally, inflammation is a good thing, as it helps the body to heal. But when inflammation lingers over a long period, it can lead to a long list of health problems, including cancer, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
The study further found that people were more likely to have COPD if they were older and were in a lower income bracket. Furthermore, Lilia Fuller-Thomson, a professor at the University of Toronto and study co-author, said: 
“Among women, but not men, height and education level were negatively associated with COPD, but being married was associated with higher odds of COPD.”
Esme Fuller-Thomson said in a statement:
“These findings highlight the importance of healthcare professionals routinely screening their older obese patients for COPD, even when the patients have no history of smoking.”