Add this to the list of health risks associated with obesity: Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that obese teens face a higher risk of hearing loss.
The findings, published in the journal The Laryngoscope, show that obese teens have a nearly doubled risk of one-sided low-frequency hearing loss, and are also more likely than their normal-weight peers to experience any kind of hearing loss.
"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 cognitive and behavioral issues," study researcher Dr. Anil K. Lalwani, M.D., who is a professor and vice chair for research of Columbia's Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery, said in a statement.
The study included data from 1,488 people ages 12 to 19 who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2006. Researchers found that low-frequency hearing loss plagued 7.89 percent of teens who were not obese, but 15.16 percent of teens who were obese. A typical hearing range for a healthy person without hearing loss is from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, but people with low-frequency hearing loss can't hear frequencies at 2,000 Hz or lower.
Even though more research is needed to find exactly why obesity can influence hearing loss risk, researchers speculated that a direct reason could be obesity-related inflammation; indirect reasons may include Type 2 diabetes or heart disease, which are associated with obesity and are also known to be linked with hearing loss.
More than 48 million Americans currently have hearing loss in at least one ear, according to a 2011 study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. And in 2010, Harvard researchers found that one in five teens has slight hearing loss.