Association of Obesity with Quantitative Chest CT Measured Airway Wall Thickness in WTC Workers with Lower Airway Disease

BACKGROUND:

We previously reported that wall area percent (WAP), a quantitative CT (QCT) indicator of airway wall thickness and, presumably, inflammation, is associated with adverse longitudinal expiratory flow trajectories in WTC workers, but that obesity and weight gain also seemed to be independently predictive of the latter. Previous studies have reported no association between WAP and obesity, so we investigated that association in nonsmoking WTC-exposed individuals and healthy unexposed controls.

METHODS:

We assessed WAP using the Chest Imaging Platform QCT system in a segmental bronchus in 118 former WTC workers, and 89 COPDGene® WTC-unexposed and asymptomatic subjects. We used multiple regression to model WAP vs. body mass index (BMI) in the two groups, adjusting for important subject and CT image characteristics.

RESULTS:

Unadjusted analyses revealed significant differences between the two groups with regards to WAP, age, gender, scan pixel spacing and slice interval, but not BMI or total lung capacity. In adjusted analysis, there was a significant interaction between BMI and WTC exposure on WAP. BMI was significantly and positively associated with WAP in the WTC group, but not in the COPDGene® group, but stratified analyses revealed that the effect was significant in WTC subjects with clinical evidence of lower airway disease (LAD).

DISCUSSION:

Unlike non-diseased subjects, BMI was significantly associated with WAP in WTC workers and, in stratified analyses, the association was significant only among those with LAD. Our findings suggest that this adverse effect of obesity on airway structure and inflammation may be confined to already diseased individuals.