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Children who are undernourished at around preschool age may be more likely to suffer from hearing loss as they get older, according to a new study.
Researchers from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US conducted an investigation involving more than 2,200 young Nepalese adults, after their nutrition levels had been monitored while they had attended preschool 16 years earlier.
Hearing loss is a widespread problem in South Asia, with some 116 million young people believed to be affected by it.
Doctors found that children whose growth had been stunted due to a lack of nutrition were twice as likely as their well-nourished counterparts to experience a decline in their hearing function in their late teens or early twenties.
This was also found to be the case for children who had been deemed too thin.
The scientists believe that the link between malnourishment and hearing loss is most likely due to a lack of the right nutrients preventing the inner ear from developing in the way that it should - something that could begin as early as when a foetus is still in the womb.
Meanwhile, those who had suffered from acute malnutrition as young children - which is characterised by them being too thin - are more likely to suffer from infections, including in the ears, as a result of a weakened immune system. As recurrent ear infections can lead to hearing loss, this is also highly likely to be a factor in the link.
Kevin West Jr, principal investigator of the study, commented: "Our findings should help elevate hearing loss as a still-neglected public health burden, and one that nutrition interventions in early childhood might help prevent."
The findings therefore highlight the importance of focusing on nutrition for children in less advantaged parts of the world to enable them to communicate effectively throughout their lives.
But if malnutrition in general increases hearing loss risk, it raises concerns in western society too, emphasising the importance of a healthy, balanced diet for children while they are still growing and developing.
Written by James Puckle
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