Man with a measuring tape around waist. How does your weight affect your hearing?

Hearing loss isn’t always caused by aging or damage to the ears. It is also linked to several conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. These illnesses can affect things like blood flow and blood pressure that your ears depend on to take in sound and transmit it properly to the brain. Research now indicates that the culprits may be your waist size and body fat index.

How Do You Measure Body Fat?

Doctors evaluate your body fat with a measurement called the Body Mass Index, or BMI. They obtain this number by dividing your weight by your height. The measure is not used as a way to diagnose medical conditions, but rather to let you know if you are at risk of health problems that are associated with excess weight.

Once doctors have calculated your BMI, they categorize you as underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese. For adults ages 20 or older, a BMI of 30 or more puts the patient into the obese category.

Research Into Waist Size, BMI and Hearing Loss

Brigham and Women’s Hospital conducted research into waist size, BMI and hearing loss using data collected from 68,000 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II over the course of 22 years. Data included waist circumference, BMI and self-reported levels of physical activity and hearing loss. What they found is startling.

Women with waist circumferences between 31 and 35 inches reported hearing loss at a rate 11% higher than those with waists that were 28 inches or smaller. These reports of hearing loss increased as waist circumference increased among those in the study.

Women in the study who fell into the BMI obese category who had scores between 30 and 34 reported hearing at a rate 17% higher than women who had a BMI in the healthy category. Women with a BMI of 40 or higher had even worse hearing issues, reporting hearing loss at a rate 35% higher than women in the healthy BMI range.

What Is the Connection?

Being overweight can lead to health conditions such as heart problems and diabetes. Diabetics experience hearing loss at twice the rate of those who do not have the disease. While doctors haven’t established the exact connection, it’s possible that the effects of diabetes harm the very sensitive small blood cells in your inner ear.

Research has shown a similar connection between hearing and heart health. While the exact causes haven’t been established, people with cardiovascular problems also report hearing loss at a higher rate. Again, researchers speculate that it is related to not having normal blood flow to the small blood vessels in our ears that are critical to good hearing.

How to Help Yourself

All the news from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital research wasn’t bad. Women in the study who were the most physically active reported hearing loss at a rate 17 percent less than the women who engaged in the least physical activity.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run out and join a gym. Explore your neighborhood or drive to the nearest park and do some walking. The researchers in the study found that walking just two hours or more per week reduced the rate of hearing loss by 17 percent compared to walking less than one hour per week.

Eat well, get out there and get some exercise, and protect not only your overall health but your hearing as well. Be sure to ask your regular doctor about your weight and diet, and visit a hearing specialist to check your hearing health. Problems in both areas are best identified early so you and your doctors can come up with a safe, effective treatment plan that is specific to your needs.