The Voice of Obesity

Contrary to what the title of this post may suggest, this is not about giving a voice to obesity in the sense of advocacy. No, this post is actually about how obesity can affect the voice.

In a paper, just published in OBESITY SURGERY, Maria Gabriela da Cunha and colleagues from the São Paulo University Medical School, Brazil, examined the voice feature characteristics in 45 adult volunteers of both sexes with a BMI greater than 35 compared to a control group of non-obese volunteers matched by sex, age, and smoking habits.

Using sophisticated examinations, the researchers found that the obese individuals exhibited several distinct modifications in voice feature, including hoarseness, murmuring, vocal instability, altered jitter and shimmer, and reduced maximum phonation times as well the presence of voice strangulation at the end of emission.

Not being an laryngologist, I can only guess what some of these terms mean (or sound like), but I do find it interesting (and perhaps not totally unexpected) that the vocal characteristics of individuals with obesity are objectively different than the voices of nonobese people.

After all, excess weight can be associated with abnormal fat deposits on various structures of the vocal tract including the uvula, soft palate, lateral and posterior walls of the pharyngeal walls, and the posterior region of the tongue. 

While I am not sure about the practical utility or implications of these findings, which I am filing away under “nice-to-know” and “so-what?”, I do wonder if we will be seeing voice recognition systems that will prompt obese speakers to perhaps seek medical counseling for their weight.

Toronto, Ontario