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Study Links Obesity to Deafness

Update Date: Jun 19, 2013 05:06 PM EDT

Due to the fact that obesity can cause so many diseases that lead to premature death, the American Medical Association (AMA) recently announced that obesity would be categorized as a disease, hoping that primary care physicians will address the issue more diligently. With the disease label, preventing obesity, which is a huge contributing factor to several health complications, such as type two diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure could be an easier task. A new research study just added another reason as to why it is extremely important to curb obesity. This study reported that obesity in adolescents could lead to deafness.

"This is the first paper to show that obesity is associated with hearing loss in adolescents," said study author Professor Anil Lalwani of the Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery at the Columbia University Medical Center according to a press release. "These results have several important public health implications." 

The researchers looked at data from over 1,500 adolescents who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This survey, which took place between 2005 and 2006, interviewed adolescents from the age of 12 to 19 in their homes. The survey measured family medical history, current medical conditions, medications, smokers, socioeconomic and demographic factors, and the history of noise-exposure.

The researchers found that obese children were more likely to suffer from sensorineural hearing loss across all frequencies that the human ear can hear. This type of hearing loss normally results after the inner ear hair cells suffer severe damage. The researchers found that low frequency hear loss in particular, which is the inability to hear less than 2000 Hz, occurred more commonly in obese adolescents. Nearly 15 percent of obese kids suffered from this condition in comparison to the eight percent of kids that were not obese.

This type of hearing loss makes it difficult for the children to hear things in noisy places and in groups. Normal human speech could still be heard. Although the researchers are not sure whether or not this type of hearing loss will affect the kids as they age, the researchers believe that studies looking into the effects of hearing loss on social development, academic performance, and behavioral and cognitive functions would be important.

The researchers also did not find a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and obesity, but they had two main theories as to why obese children might be at a higher risk of deafness. First, obese children tend to have low plasma levels of adiponectin, which is an anti-inflammatory protein.  Low plasma levels in adults have been previously tied with high-frequency hearing loss. Second, obesity has been linked to health complications such as high cholesterol and heart disease that have also been tied to hearing loss. The researchers hope that their findings would prompt doctors and parents to become more aware of the risk of hearing loss for obese and overweight children.

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