Obese Children: More Ear Problems?

Childhood Obesity May Increase Fluid Build-up in Ear

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 16, 2007

April 16, 2007 -- Obese children may be more likely to have fluid build-up in the middle part of their ears.

So say South Korean researchers who studied childhood obesity and an ear problem called otitis media with effusion.

In otitis media with effusion, fluid builds up in the middle ear without causing pain, fever, or other ear infection symptoms.

Childhood obesity and otitis media with effusion are rising, but before now, no one had investigated whether the two conditions might be connected, note the researchers.

They included Jong Bin Kim, MD, who works in Seoul, South Korea, at Kyung Hee University's department of otorhinolaryngology.

Kim's team studied 273 Korean children aged 2-7, including 155 kids who had tubes surgically inserted in one or both of their ears to relieve otitis media with effusion.

The other 118 children had other operations for conditions unrelated to their ears.

Obesity and Otitis Media

Kim's team measured the children's height and weight. Using those figures, the researchers calculated the children's BMI (body mass index), which is used to gauge obesity.

Based on BMI, 65 children (42%) were obese, the study shows.

The researchers also measured total cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats) in blood samples provided by the kids. Total cholesterol and triglycerides tend to rise with obesity.

Most of the children had normal levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides. But 19% had abnormally high total cholesterol levels and 35% had abnormally high triglyceride levels.

Obesity and high total cholesterol levels were more common among children who got the ear tubes than among other children.

High triglyceride levels weren't associated with otitis media with effusion.

"The finding suggests that childhood obesity could have an effect on the development of [otitis media with effusion]," write the researchers.

However, the study doesn't prove that childhood obesity or high levels of total cholesterol cause otitis media with effusion.

The study appears in the Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Kim, J. Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery, April 2007; vol 133: pp 379-382. News release, JAMA/Archives.

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