Three surveys (1969/1970, 1979/1980 and 1989/1990) have examined the impact of acculturation to a sedentary lifestyle on the pulmonary function of a circumpolar native Inuit community. The sample comprised more than 50% of those aged 20-60 yrs, most recently 119 males and 92 females. Forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and maximal mid-expiratory flow (MMEF) were measured by standard spirometric techniques, and information was obtained on smoking habits and health. Multiple regression equations showed that lung function was affected by height and age, but usually not by age squared. Cross-sectional age coefficients for FVC and FEV1 increased over the period 1969/1970 to 1989/1990. Parallel longitudinal trends were seen in FEV1 (males only). Multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) showed age-decade*cohort effects for FVC and FEV1 (males but not females). Almost all of the population now smoke (mean +/- SD males 13 +/- 8 cigarettes.day-1; females 11 +/- 7 cigarettes.day-1). However, smoking bears little relationship to lung function perhaps due to limited variance in consumption. About a third of the community have physician-diagnosed and/or radiographically visible chest disease, but with little effect upon pulmonary function. We conclude that an apparent secular trend to a faster ageing of lung function in men is not explained by disease or domestic air pollution. Possible factors include increased lung volumes in young adults, greater pack-years of cigarette exposure, nonspecific respiratory disease, increased inspiration of cold air or altered chest mechanics due to operation of high-speed snowmobiles, and loss of physical fitness.