Deaths from all respiratory diseases except lung cancer were higher compared to 14 countries in the European Union and Norway, Canada, Australia and the United States, said data analysis from the World Health Organization.
Overall deaths from respiratory disease have declined in all of these countries between 1985 and 2015, according to an analysis published Wednesday at BMJ. Death in men decreases in this period, but remains more or less the same for women.
Respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD, are categorized as a changeable disease, said Dr. Justin Salciccioli, a resident and clinical colleague at Harvard Medical School and led the researcher in the analysis. "The relevance of that is that by providing effective, timely and appropriate health care, this death must be avoided," he added.
The international research team led by Salciccioli outpaced previous research because it looked at whether this trend persisted over a longer period and more than a broad category of disease.
In the UK, deaths from respiratory diseases from 1985 to 2015 fell from 151 per 100,000 men to 89; for women, the results increased from 67 to 68 per 100,000, according to new studies.
In other countries studied, the death rate for men fell from 108 to 69 per 100,000 in this period; rates for women increased from 35 to 37 per 100,000.
Salciccioli described the national comparison as "a big difference."
"That is one of the big reasons why we are pursuing this question," he added.
The difference seems to affect the broader category of diseases that affect the lungs in general, according to Salciccioli.
"The cause of concern is that this is a difference that goes on over time more than absolute differences," he said.
Salciccioli explained that with regard to deaths in men with lung cancer, the UK "is as good, if not better," as the majority of comparative countries.
The study shows an observational tendency and cannot determine why there are differences in mortality rates, but it is possible that lifestyle factors such as smoking play a role, said Salciccioli.
Salciccioli hopes that this research will lead to a better understanding of what lies behind the difference between UK mortality rates and those from other countries.
Previous research has suggested that high tobacco consumption in the UK can be associated with differences in deaths from respiratory diseases. But smoking has declined in the UK, the study said.
All countries studied showed a decrease in male mortality from respiratory conditions, but there were no signs of a decline in the level of women. Salciccioli believes that this is driven "by the inheritance of smoking": Men have a higher smoking rate historically, and there is a significant increase in reducing this. Salciccioli is not sure that the level of smoking is cut among women just as in men.
"These numbers are sad, but they are not surprising," said Dr. Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, who was not involved in the study. "We know that lung disease is the third biggest killer in the UK after cancer and heart disease."