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  • Writer's pictureNick Oldham

Obesity and Hearing Loss: Obesity Linked to Greater Risk of Hearing Loss in Teens

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Experts urge screening of overweight kids because many may be unaware their hearing is impaired.

In addition to the well-known health risks of being overweight, a new study finds that obese teens may be at increased risk for hearing loss.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,500 adolescents, aged 12 to 19, who took part in the 2005 to 2006 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Obese adolescents had greater hearing loss across all frequencies and were nearly twice as likely to have one-sided, low-frequency hearing loss, compared to their normal-weight peers.

The study was released online June 17 in advance of publication in an upcoming issue of the journal The Laryngoscope.

“This is the first paper to show that obesity is associated with hearing loss in adolescents,” study first author Dr. Anil Lalwani, a professor and vice chairman for research in the department of otolaryngology/head & neck surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, said in a Columbia news release.

He and his colleagues theorized that obesity-caused inflammation may contribute to hearing loss. Nearly 17 percent of U.S. teens are obese.

“These results have several important public health implications,” Lalwani said. “Because previous research found that 80 percent of adolescents with hearing loss were unaware of having hearing difficulty, adolescents with obesity should receive regular hearing screening so they can be treated appropriately to avoid [brain] and behavioral issues.”

The nearly twofold increased risk of one-sided, low-frequency hearing loss in obese teens is particularly concerning because it suggests early, and possibly ongoing, injury to the inner ear that could progress as obese teens become obese adults, the researchers said in the news release.

Further research is needed to determine how hearing loss in obese teens affects their social development, school performance, behavior and thinking skills.

“Furthermore, hearing loss should be added to the growing list of the negative health consequences of obesity that affect both children and adults — adding to the impetus to reduce obesity among people of all ages,” Lalwani said.

Although the study found an association between obesity and hearing loss in teens, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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