Lead author Dr. Anil K. Lalwani, a professor and vice chair for research of the Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery, Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said obesity in adolescents was associated with sensorineural hearing loss across all frequencies, or the frequency range that can be heard by humans.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner-ear hair cells, Lalwani said.
The study, published in The Laryngoscope, found the highest rates were for low-frequency hearing loss -- 15.16 percent of obese adolescents compared with 7.89 percent of non-obese adolescents.
People with low-frequency hearing loss cannot hear sounds in frequencies 2,000 hertz and lower; they may still hear sounds in the higher frequencies -- normal hearing range is from 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. Often they can still understand human speech well, but may have difficulty hearing in groups or in noisy places, Lalwani said.
"These results have several important public health implications," Lalwani, also an otolaryngologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, said in a statement.
"Because previous research found that 80 percent of adolescents with hearing loss were unaware of having hearing difficulty, adolescents with obesity should receive regular hearing screening so they can be treated appropriately to avoid cognitive and behavioral issues."