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Adolescent Obesity Is an Independent Risk Factor for Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Results From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005 to 2010

Kohlberg, Gavriel D.*,†; Demmer, Ryan T.‡,§; Lalwani, Anil K.

doi: 10.1097/MAO.0000000000001956

Objective: We investigated the hypothesis that childhood obesity is a risk factor for sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) independent of other metabolic risk factors.

Study Design: A complex, multistage, stratified geographic area design for collecting representative data from noninstitutionalized US population.

Methods: A total of 5,638 adolescents between age 12 and 19 from the NHANES database (2005–2010) were studied. Subjects with body mass index >= 95th percentile were classified as obese. SNHL was defined as average pure-tone greater than 15 dB HL for 0.5, 1, and 2 kHz or 3, 4, 6, and 8 kHz in at least 1 ear. Multivariable logistic regression models assessed incident hearing loss odds across obese patients in comparison with normal weight individuals (5th–85th percentile). Multivariable models included age, sex, socioeconomic status, race, smoke exposure, high density lipoprotein level, triglyceride level, elevated blood pressure measurement, hemoglobin A1C level, and C-reactive protein level.

Results: The rate of SNHL was 21.5% in obese and 13.44% in normal weight adolescents (p < 0.0001). In multivariable analyses, obesity was associated with 1.73-fold increase in the odds of SNHL (95% CI: 1.25–2.40, p value = 0.006). Potentially confounding and mediating factors had minimal effect on the odds of SNHL in obese study participants (OR range of 1.69–1.75, all p values <= 0.01).

Conclusions: Obesity is associated with higher prevalence of SNHL in adolescents independent of other potential risk factors. Future longitudinal investigations and mechanistic studies are warranted.

*Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Columbia University Cochlear Implant Center, Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York

Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York

§Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Anil K. Lalwani, M.D., Director, Columbia University Cochlear Implant Center, Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 180 Fort Washington Avenue, Harkness Pavilion HP818, New York, NY 10032; E-mail:

A.K.L. serves on the Medical Advisory Board of Advanced Bionics Corporation and the Surgical Advisory Board of MED-EL Corporation.

The authors disclose no conflicts of interest.

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