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.