Study finds obesity in adolescents is linked to heightened rate of hearing loss

David Kirkwood
June 19, 2013

NEW YORK—Anil K. Lalwani, MD, lead author of a new study showing an association between hearing loss and obesity among adolescents, recommends that obese adolescents “receive regular hearing screening so they can be treated appropriately to avoid cognitive and behavioral issues.”

The study, published June 17 in The Laryngoscope, found that obesity in adolescents is associated with sensorineural hearing loss across all frequencies. The highest rates were for low-frequency hearing loss—15.2% among obese adolescents compared with 7.9% in non-obese adolescents.

Lalwani, who is vice-chair for research in the Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), told the CUMC news office, “This is the first paper to show that obesity is associated with hearing loss in adolescents.”

Lalwani, who is also an otolaryngologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, noted that the results of the study “have several important public health implications.” Because it has been found that 80% of adolescents with hearing loss are unaware of their hearing difficulty, he said it is important that those whose obesity puts them in a high-risk category be routinely screened for hearing loss. About 17% of children in the U.S. are obese.

“Furthermore,” Lalwani said, “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 called for additional research on the adverse consequences of this early hearing loss on social development, academic performance, and behavioral and cognitive function. He also said that more research would be needed to determine the mechanisms involved in hearing loss among obese adolescents.

He speculated that obesity-induced inflammation may contribute to hearing loss. Low plasma levels of adiponectin, an anti-inflammatory protein, have been found in obese children, and low levels in obese adults have been associated with high-frequency hearing loss.

The study, whose other authors are Karin Katz, MD; Ying-Hua Liu, MD, PhD; Sarah Kim, BA; and Michael Weitzman, MD, all from the New York University Langone Medical Center, analyzed data from nearly 1500 adolescents in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted 2005-2006 by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



  1. Maybe the obese teenagers are the same minimally-active ones who listen to music 24/7 at 100 dB+, so both obesity and hearing loss are not cause and effect, but effects due to a common cause.

  2. Hearing loss is sometimed accompanied with balance difficulties. Finding it hard to balance can lead to not wanting to be in motion.

  3. Hearing loss has nothing to do with being active or not. Kids today have no incentive to get outside and play. Playing on the computer, smartphones, etc., are the reasons kids aren’t doing anything. Granted there are issues that might lead to not wanting to be active but I can’t buy plain old hearing loss being the cause. How do I know? I started having problems with my hearing at age 3 and was not obese. My nephew is 5, skinny and nearly deaf. The government is trying to group all of our sickness and disease into one cause: Obesity.
    Technology and lifestyle are the general causes of obesity. Do you want a study that can make a difference? Find out why heredity is a cause for hearing loss. Educate yourself on what it is like to be hard of hearing or deaf. Go through the cruelty from kids and adults that make fun of you because you can’t hear just for the laugh. Find a cure for us. Don’t tell me I can’t hear because I’m fat!

  4. I think everyone needs to understand that this is something that shouldn’t be that surprising. Hearing loss is highly correlated with depression/anxiety, stress, etc. Some people’s coping mechanism with psychological stress can be to eat, thus the connection between a higher prevalence of obesity and hearing loss shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

    We have to remember the difference between correlation and causation when you look at this type of data.

Leave a Reply