Does Girth Have Anything to Do With Your Voice?

Just because there are many portly singers doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be fat to be good.
In this lecture, we’ll take a look at:

  • The state of American obesity
  • How obesity affects the voice
  • Treatment options

Find out this and more, all courtesy of Dr. Carlos Galvani, here at VOX Daily.

Just How Fat is the USA?

While sitting through this lecture, Dr. Galvani presented some startling facts about just how fat the US is becoming, and the numbers will shock you.

Here are some National Statistics on Obesity:

๏ Obesity has dramatically increased in the last 30 years, affecting 33% of the adult population in the United States. Obesity has increased in every state and both sexes, across all age groups, races and educational levels.
๏ Presently, the lifetime risk of being overweight exceeds 70%.
We looked at a number of charts that tracked the levels of obesity over the years and the increase was unbelievable.

The Prevalence of Obesity Among US Adults in 2007:

15% – 19% of people were obese in one state
20% – 24% of people were obese in 20 states
25% – 29% of people were obese in 27 states
>30% of people were obese in 3 states

Zeroing In on Illinois

๏ Ranked 25th heaviest state
๏ Adult obesity 23.9% (national goal 15%)
– Diabetes 7.1%
– Hypertension 24.8%
๏ IL is one of 31 states whose obesity rates rose in 2006
๏ IL obesity attributable medical expense in 2003: $3.439 Billion (ranks 6th nationally)

Obesity is the result of a combination of influences:

๏ Genes inherited from parents
๏ Surroundings
๏ Psychological factors
๏ Modern lifestyle
Dr. Galvani made the reference that we’re a “Modern Society with Stone Age Genes”. Not much has changed in our bodies over thousands of years, however, our eating habits, lifestyles and environments have changed significantly.

How Does Obesity Affect Your Voice?

The following diseases are related to obesity. Those diseases also affect the voice to varying degrees.
๏ Cancer
๏ Asthma
๏ Obesity Hypoventilation syndrome
In particular pertaining to the voice, Extra-esophageal manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in obesity include symptoms of:
๏ Laryngitis (laryngopharyngeal reflux LPR)
– 50% – 60% of chronic laryngitis
๏ Asthma
– GERD is present in 50% – 80% of asthmatic patients
– Cough
– Chest pain
– Dental erosions

Why Breathing is Important

It goes without saying (and we won’t get too technical here) that obesity affects breathing, and as we all know, breathing is important. Obesity also is a cause of sleep apnea syndrome, cardiac disease, diabetes, asthma and other ailments.
As a voice actor you rely on your capacity to breathe properly in order to get enough airflow to project your voice, maintain your support and complete a phrase.

Obesity Affects Breathing, Especially for Asthmatics

I have some information to share about subjective and objective evaluation of voice quality in patients with asthma:
๏ Adequate airflow during expiration is a prerequisite for the effective vibration of vocal folds during the generation of voice:
– in patients with asthma, obstruction and resistance, which are most pronounced during expiration, result in impairment in the generation of the voice
– Allergy and nasal polyposis, in patients with asthma affect the vocal performance
– Bronchodilators and steroids have been reported to be associated with voice changes


Does Weight Affect Your Voice?

Remember that rather rotund picture of the late opera singer Luciano Pavarotti in the opening of this article?
Pavarotti used to say that he loved tasty food and good wine. He considered his size as part of his identity and one of the reasons for his success, however, whether or not his size was the source of his beautiful voice is another debate altogether.
Take a look at this picture of Luciano Pavarotti when he was 33 years old and considerably less obese if overweight at all. Was his distinctive sound very different then as compared to the tenor voice he had in his middle age and later in life?

Voices age but they do carry certain characteristics with them over the years so it would make sense that the sound he was known for (and that made him famous) was the same robustness back then changed slightly by his weight gain later on.

Vocalist Who Took Operative Measures To Save Her Career

Dr. Galvani spoke about opera singer Deborah Voigt for a little while.
In 2005, Voigt was dismissed from a production for being overweight and has since had surgery to reduce her size, opting to undergo Gastric-Bypass Surgery, losing 135 lbs.
The reason for her dismissal?

The people running the production at London’s Royal Opera House said that Voigt would not suit her costume (she would not fit into Ariadne’s little black dress, according to sources).
Losing her role in Ariadne auf Naxos was the final straw for her I would imagine. Losing the weight it seems got her back in the production for the 2008-2009 season with her performance reported as:

œSoprano Deborah Voigt finds that less is more at the opera house. ~ From the “A Shadow of Herself” interview on New City Chicago

Has Her Voice Changed Since the Weight Loss?

There is a difference between what she sounded like and then and how she sounds now if you listen closely to her range and tone quality. Is it any better? Any worse? That’s up to you to figure out, but the fact of the matter is, weight gain or loss does have an affect on the voice.
Opera singer Maria Callas is another singer who lost a significant amount of weight near the end of her career. She tried to carry on the way she had sung before at a fraction of her original weight and the damage done was irreparable.

Another example of a popular singer who is still with us who has also experienced a major shift in weight is singer Aretha Franklin. Her slender figure in the days of Motown has been replaced with a larger, more obese figure that gives her cause to stop for breath more often which has surely affected her voice, vocal abilities and tone quality as Dr. Sims had politely pointed out.


There’s a lot to think about here, isn’t there?
Dr. Galvani closed with the following statement:
“Finally, no man should ever attempt to adopt the rotund figure of Luciano Pavarotti unless he thinks he can sing as well as Pavarotti.”

About Carlos Galvani, MD

Assistant Professor of Surgery
Bariatric Surgery
University of Illinois at Chicago
Dr. Galvani is an Assistant Professor of Surgery, whose specialties include Bariatric Surgery (Lap band, Sleeve gastrectomy), minimally invasive and robotic surgery, surgery of the gastrointestinal tract, surgery for Gastroparesis (ENTERRA), robotic-assisted esophageal surgery for benign and malignant diseases of the esophagus, and robotic-assisted living donor nephrectomy.

Any Comments? Do you find that this is the same with voice when used for speaking and voice overs?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
Best wishes,


  1. I am a bit surprised that there is a direct correlation between how one breathes and one’s girth. I would think that the contributing factor to both issues would be the amount of exercise one gets. No one will argue that less exercise means more fat. However, there are more than just biceps and abs to exercise. The diaphragm is also a muscle that needs to work out. Obesity may inhibit the range of movement for the diaphragm, but as long as one still exercises all their vocal muscles they would be fine, for the most part (outside of the other obesity problems).
    Of course, I have no scientific research on hand to support this, just musing.
    I would like to know about the problems from being too thin trying to sing.

  2. David,
    You are correct that the diaphgram can still be trained, but obesity restricted the expansion of the rib cage. There is actually something called Pickwickian Syndrome that speaks to the increased effort on the respiratory muscles when they have to lift increased girth. It makes it harder to take a deep breath and support well. To be clear, we’re not talking about 10-15 pounds of extra weight, we’re talking actual obesity. For example a man who’s 6 feet tall and weigh 170 will have an easier time doing a push-up than a man who’s 6 feet tall and weighs 270 assuming they have the same level of fitness. It’s harder to lift the 100 extra pounds.
    It terms of being to thin, this is not direct. However, too thin often means malnutrition and that often means low energy and less ability to support well. Also, being too thin creates an imbalance in thyroid hormone and circulating androgen hormones which also can affect the voice.

  3. As a morbidly obese individual I can attest to these issues. Although I have been blessed with vocal singing talent from my ancestors, my weight AND health are a HUGE factor determining My effectiveness.
    In 1997 a Drama Instructor in College helped me to change the pitch of my speaking voice and over the next few years My voice was getting better, but beathing was a huge difficulty and being depressed and not exercising really took its toll.
    Finally in Sept of 2004 I was admitted to the Hopsital with an Irrgeular heartbeat. I am 6’0″ tall and at that time I weighed in at a heafty 532 pounds. Over the next 2 years I was also diagnosed with Depression and Sleep Apnea both genetic in my family tree, so this didn’t help matters. But as I took my meds and began working on slowly getting my health back with exercise and changing my lifestyle, I have worked my way up to exercising 3-4 days a week.
    Since that time I have dropped over 100 pounds and on May 27 of this year, I underwent lapband weightloss surgery and am on the path to a healthier life. As I get stronger, lose weight and get healthier, my voice improves a little bit with each passing day. I got so much confidence with My health improving that I am currently training for the voice over industry and will be recording my demo in Schenectady, NY on October 15.
    So I can readily attest to the fact that obesity can advesly affect your voice and breathing.

  4. To answer your question weight has nothing to do with one’s ability to sing. Weight doesn’t negatively affect or restrict the vocal cords from operating correctly or the diaphragm muscle from being able to operate effectively. Pavarotti is a perfect example of this theory, he was a phenomenal opera singer and his weight never affected his vocal cords’ ability to function nor did his weight adversely affect his diaphragm from operating efficiently.
    Pavarotti didn’t die until he was in his late seventies/early
    eighties. While it isn’t good for anyone to be carrying extra
    weight, extra weight won’t keep a trained classical vocalist from singing effectively. The only thing that will keep a classical vocalist from singing effectively is not training and not rehearsing.

  5. To answer another question about weight affecting vocal
    performance. The majority of people clavicular breath, which means they take short, shallow breaths of air that rest in the top of the
    lungs. But a trained classical singer uses diaphragmatic breathing which stores air in the bottom of the lungs as well as the top-in other word using the whole lung region as a storage space for conjunction with the diaphragm which if done right releases air slowly, strengthening the singing process.
    I’m a classical singer who isn’t skinny, while I don’t advocate being overweight because it just isn’t healthy for anyone. I can honestly say that my weight has never affected my ability to sing an aria,. oratorio, Octavo, Requiem, art song etc… If a singer is experiencing issues with their breathing chances are they are clavicular breathing instead of diaphragmatic breathing and they need to re-examine their breathing techniques.

  6. I have to disagree with the comment that Maria Callus being overweight destroyed her voice-that is not true. Maria’s past weight has nothing to do with whether or not her voice is still a quality voice. I have heard Maria Callus sing before she lost weight and after she has lost weight-her voice is just as phenomenal as it has always been.

  7. One final word, I have heard people who were skinny that couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and never would be able too because they either didn’t possess the technique or they just plain were tone deaf. Weight has little to nothing to do with being a singer, some of the greatest classical singers of the world are not skinny, in fact more than not definately aren’t skinny.
    Again, I’m always in favor of keeping in shape but sorry weight isn’t a factor in being able to sing.


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