BACKGROUND--A study was conducted to find out if pre-employment lung function at age 16 improved the estimation of that between ages 25 to 27 compared with the use of reference values based on smoking history, stature, body mass index, and other concurrent anthropometric variables. METHODS--Apprentices attending a shipyard training school were assessed on six occasions from entry during their 17th year to age 25 to 27; results for 114 such men were analysed. The measurements were of stature, body mass, fat free mass and body fat, thoracic dimensions, forced expiratory volume and indices of forced expiratory flow, total lung capacity, and its subdivisions, transfer factor and KCO. RESULTS--At best about half the variance in the final lung function could be accounted for with the concurrent reference variables. For each lung function index the proportion of explained variance was substantially increased by also including in the prediction equation the pre-employment lung function expressed in standard deviation units. CONCLUSION--Estimation of the longitudinal decline in lung function during adult life should be based on initial and final measurements of which the first should ideally be at age 25 but those at age 16 can be used instead: such measurements have long term value and should be preserved.
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