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:
à¹ 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.
à¹ 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
à¹ Ranked 25th heaviest state
à¹ Adult obesity 23.9% (national goal 15%)
– Diabetes 7.1%
– Hypertension 24.8%
à¹ IL is one of 31 states whose obesity rates rose in 2006
à¹ IL obesity attributable medical expense in 2003: $3.439 Billion (ranks 6th nationally)
Obesity is the result of a combination of influences:
à¹ Genes inherited from parents
à¹ Psychological factors
à¹ 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.
à¹ GERD / LPRD
à¹ Obesity Hypoventilation syndrome
In particular pertaining to the voice, Extra-esophageal manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in obesity include symptoms of:
à¹ Laryngitis (laryngopharyngeal reflux LPR)
– 50% – 60% of chronic laryngitis
– GERD is present in 50% – 80% of asthmatic patients
– 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:
à¹ 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
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.