Obesity and hearing loss are typically not associated with children, even though both health conditions affect younger age groups in surprisingly large numbers. And now researchers have concluded that obese adolescents may be at a higher risk for hearing loss than their normal-weight peers.
These findings are reported in an article entitled “Association of Obesity with Hearing Impairment in Adolescents.”
The authors of the study point out that the prevalence of obesity among U.S. children aged 12 to 19 years old increased from 10.5% between 1988 and 1994 to 20.6% between 2013 and 2014. Meanwhile, approximately 15% of children in the United States have a measurable hearing loss in at least one ear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Researchers set out to investigate whether obesity is associated with audiometric indicators of hearing loss among adolescents who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2007-2010).
The incidence of overall hearing loss indicators was 24.8% for obese adolescents compared to 14.7% for their normal-weight peers. In addition, the study found that high-frequency hearing loss (the most common type of hearing loss) was more prevalent among obese (17.9%) vs. normal-weight (5.4%) individuals.
“Health care professionals should be aware of the increased risk of damage to hearing among their patients with obesity,” state the study’s authors. “Since hearing impairment often progresses insidiously for years before being self-perceived or diagnosed, early basic hearing screenings…may provide early diagnosis and opportunities for noise prevention counseling and access to hearing aids.”
Significant risks associated with both conditions
Both obesity and hearing loss, if left unchecked, can lead to other significant health and behavioral issues in adolescents.
Obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (due to high blood pressure and/or elevated cholesterol levels), type 2 diabetes, asthma, joint problems, fatty liver disease and psychological issues, according to the CDC. In addition, childhood obesity often leads to obesity as an adult, increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer and other serious health conditions.
Children with hearing loss may experience a number of negative consequences, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), including:
- Delayed speech and language skills
- Learning problems in school
- Feeling bad about themselves
- Having trouble making friends
A healthy diet and regular exercise can help prevent childhood obesity, which in turn may contribute to better hearing. Parents can further reduce the risk of hearing loss by safeguarding their children’s ears from excessive noise — one of the leading causes of hearing loss. This means wearing hearing protection in high-noise situations (85 decibels or higher) and practicing “safe listening” with personal music players, especially when used with earbuds.
Finally, health insurance carriers can make hearing health care more accessible for children by including a hearing benefit in their health plans. At least 23 states require qualified health plans to offer hearing benefits, which are frequently focused on hearing health care for children. In many other instances, health insurers offer a hearing benefit simply because it makes sense. If you don’t currently offer a hearing benefit or hearing health care program, contact Amplifon Hearing Health Care for information and assistance.