Overweight person on a scale.

There are plenty of health reasons to keep your body weight down, but did you know it may also help your hearing?

Research shows that both children and adults who are overweight are more likely to experience hearing loss and that eating well and exercising can help fortify your hearing. Knowing more about the connections can help you take healthy hearing steps for both yourself and your family.

Obesity and Adult Hearing

A study out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that women who had a high body mass index (BMI) were at a higher risk of experiencing hearing loss. The BMI measures the relationship between body fat and height, with a higher number indicating higher body fat. The higher the BMI of the 68,000 women in the study, the higher their risk of hearing loss. At the heaviest weights, women were up to 25 percent more likely to experience hearing loss!

Waist size also turned out to be a reliable indicator in this study. Women with larger waist sizes had a higher risk of hearing loss, and the risk increased as waist size increased.

Obesity and Children’s Hearing

A 2013 study showed that obese children had close to twice the risk of experiencing single-sided hearing loss compared to healthy children. These children suffered sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by damage to sensitive hair cells in the inner ear that help carry sound. This damage led to a decreased ability to hear sounds at low frequencies, which can make it difficult to understand what people are saying in crowded settings such as a classroom.

This type of hearing loss in children is particularly worrisome because kids often don’t even know they have a hearing problem. If it is not addressed, there is a danger that the hearing loss could worsen as they move into adulthood.

What is the Connection?

Researchers suspect that the connection between obesity and hearing loss lies in other factors that are related to obesity. High blood pressure, diabetes, and poor circulation have all been tied to hearing loss, and all can result from obesity.

The workings of the inner ear are very sensitive, consisting of a series of small capillaries, nerve cells, and other delicate parts that must stay healthy in order to work properly and in conjunction. Good blood flow is essential, and high blood pressure and the narrowing of blood vessels caused by obesity can hamper this process. Reduced blood flow can also damage the cochlea, which accepts vibrations and sends nerve impulses to the brain, so it knows what it’s hearing. Damage to the cochlea and its surrounding nerve cells can rarely be undone.

What Should You Do?

Women in the Brigham & Women’s Hospital study who exercised the most regularly had a 17 percent less chance of experiencing hearing loss than those who exercised the least. You don’t have to run a marathon to achieve that effect either. Walking just two or more hours per week resulted in a 15 percent lower chance of hearing loss than walking for less than an hour.

Your whole family can also benefit from eating better, as your diet can have a positive impact on your hearing beyond that offered by potential weight loss. If you have a child or grandchild in your family who is obese, talk about steps your family can take to promote a healthier lifestyle. You can even learn exercises that are fun for children and work them into family gatherings. They might enjoy them enough to do them on their own!

If you suspect that you have hearing loss, talk to a hearing care professional as it may not be related to your weight. An audiologist can give you a hearing test to confirm your suspicions and advise you on next steps specific to your hearing. If needed, your primary care physician can recommend a diet and exercises that best suit your needs.