Is obesity linked to sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in children?
Background: Approximately 17 percent of U.S. children are obese (body mass index ≥ 95 percentile). In adults, obesity and its concomitant morbidities have been identified as a hearing loss risk factor. To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to use a large, nationally representative sample to investigate the relationship between obesity and SNHL in a pediatric population.
Explore this issue:December 2013
Study design: Collection of representative data from a noninstitutionalized U.S. population using a complex, multistage, stratified geographic area design.
Setting: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005 to 2006, for 1,488 participants aged 12 to 19; the survey was conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Synopsis: Definitions of “overweight” and “obesity” were based on recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Underweight participants and individuals with abnormal otoscopic results, poor-quality tympanogram results or a peak response of less than 0.3 mL were excluded. Adolescent participants were divided into two age groups: Group 1 (12 to 15 years old) and Group 2 (16 to 19 years old). The prevalence of hearing loss was greater among individuals with obesity for both unilateral low- and high-frequency hearing and bilateral low- and high-frequency hearing, but these trends were not statistically significant. Across frequencies from 0.5 to 4, the mean pure-tone hearing level was higher in adolescents with obesity when compared with individuals without obesity. Obesity in adolescents was also associated with a greater prevalence of unilateral low-frequency SNHL. Age, gender, poverty status, secondhand smoke exposure, race/ethnicity and noise exposure history were not significantly associated with unilateral low-frequency hearing loss in the bivariate analyses. Limitations stem from the NHANES data set: Causal inferences cannot be made, it is not possible to determine hearing loss progression and audiometric measures of children under 12 years old are not included.
Bottom line: Obesity in childhood is associated with higher hearing thresholds across all frequencies and an almost two-fold increase in the odds of unilateral low-frequency hearing loss.
Citation: Lalwani AK, Katz K, Liu YU, Kim S, Weitzman M. Obesity is associated with sensorineural hearing loss in adolescents. Laryngoscope. 2013;123: 3178-3184.
—Reviewed by Amy Eckner