Boston, MA – According to the World Health Organization, 360 million people have disabling hearing loss, a condition that is often considered to be an unavoidable side effect of aging. New research from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) published online in The American Journal of Medicine, finds that higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waist circumference are each associated with higher risk of hearing loss, while a higher level of physical activity is associated with lower risk of hearing loss in women.
"We often think of hearing loss as an inevitable part of the aging process, but these findings provide evidence that potentially modifiable risk factors, such as maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active, may help in the prevention of hearing loss or delay its progression," said Sharon Curhan, MD, ScM, lead author of the paper and a researcher in the Channing Division of Network Medicine at BWH.
Using data from 68,421 women in the Nurses' Health Study II who were followed from 1989 to 2009, researchers analyzed information on BMI, waist circumference, physical activity, and self-reported hearing loss. The baseline and updated information was obtained through validated biennial questionnaires. Researchers found that women with a BMI of 30-34 had a relative risk for hearing loss that was 17 percent higher, and with a BMI of40 or more had a relative risk that was 25 percent higher, when compared with those with a BMI of less than 25.
For women with waist circumference 80-88 cm, the relative risk for hearing loss was 11 percent higher and with waist circumference greater than 88 cm the relative risk was 27 percent higher when compared with women with waist circumference less than 71 cm.
Researchers also found that higher level of physical activity was associated with lower risk. Compared with women who were the least physically active, women who were the most physically active had a 17 percent lower risk of hearing loss. Walking, which was the most common form of physical activity reported among these women, was associated with lower risk; walking 2 hours per week or more was associated with a 15 percent lower risk of hearing loss, compared with walking less than one hour per week.
This research was funded by grants DC010811 and CA50385 from the National Institutes of Health and from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 3.5 million annual patient visits, is the largest birthing center in New England and employs nearly 15,000 people. The Brigham's medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication toresearch, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, more than 1,000 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $650 million in funding. For the last 25 years, BWH ranked second in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among independent hospitals. BWH continually pushes the boundaries of medicine, including building on its legacy in transplantation by performing a partial face transplant in 2009 and the nation's first full face transplant in 2011. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information, resources and to follow us on social media, please visit BWH's online newsroom.