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Return to Obesity in Teenagers Tied to Hearing Loss Overview

More on Obesity in Teenagers Tied to Hearing Loss

Obesity in Teenagers Tied to Hearing Loss

NEW YORK (Apr 21, 2014)

Obesity remains a serious public health concern, with rates reaching almost 18% in children and 21% in adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes are just a few of the health problems that are linked to obesity in kids. A study conducted by Anil K. Lalwani, M.D., shows that now hearing loss has been added to the growing list of disorders affecting children at or above the 95th percentile for body mass index.

Anil K. Lalwani, M.D.
Anil K. Lalwani, M.D.

"We know that obesity is a factor for hearing loss in adults," said Dr. Lalwani. "However, to our knowledge, there had been no previous national study investigating the relationship between obesity and sensorineural hearing loss in a pediatric population."

Dr. Lalwani and his colleagues examined data from 1,488 adolescents, 12 to 19 years of age, compiled from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2005 to 2006).

"Obesity was found to be associated with higher hearing thresholds across all frequencies and an almost two-fold increase in the odds of having unilateral low-frequency hearing loss," said Dr. Lalwani. "It is possible that the unilateral hearing loss identified in adolescents with obesity represents an early stage of injury, and with time, hearing loss would progress to affect both ears," said Dr. Lalwani.

The study is the first to show that obesity is associated with hearing loss in adolescents. The researchers found that it is low-frequency hearing loss, not high frequency, which is linked to obesity – a finding similar in studies of adults. In fact, the rates for low-frequency hearing loss were nearly double in obese adolescents compared with non-obese adolescents.

"These results have several important public health implications," added Dr. Lalwani. "Because previous research found that 80% of adolescents with hearing loss were unaware of having hearing difficulty, adolescents with obesity should receive regular hearing screening so that they can be treated appropriately to avoid cognitive and behavioral issues."

Obesity also may contribute indirectly to hearing loss as a result of its comorbidities, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol – all of which have been reported to be associated with loss of peripheral hearing. "Obesity may directly or indirectly lead to hearing loss," said Dr. Lalwani. "Although additional research is needed to determine the mechanisms involved, we theorize that obesity-induced inflammation may contribute ... People who are obese have more inflammatory proteins being secreted into the blood, which can cause many problems, including organ damage and hearing loss."

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