Sex Differences in Swallowing Function Attributed to Height, Finds Steinhardt Study

Variations in swallowing can be traced back to a person’s height, according to a study by Sonja Molfenter, an assistant professor at NYU Steinhardt.  Molfenter’s findings, reported in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, explain previously reported differences in swallowing function between women and men.

Swallowing function is commonly disrupted by conditions including stroke, brain injury, head and neck cancer, and spinal cord injury. The gold-standard assessment of swallowing function involves a radiographic imaging technique called videofluoroscopy, which allows real-time visualization of swallowing function. The extent of movement of various structures and tissues involved in swallowing can be measured using this technique.

Previous research had demonstrated distinct sex differences in swallowing function; men have displayed greater extent of movement than women. Thus, data and treatment targets have differed between the two sexes.

Molfenter of the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, studied the swallowing of 20 healthy adults (10 females and 10 males). The participants were stratified by height, and performed several tasks that were measured using videofluoroscopy.

The results showed variations in swallowing function among participants that could be explained by the height of the individual, likely explaining why sex differences have been observed in the past. The study also investigates methods for normalizing height in videofluoroscopic imaging and proposes ways to control for these differences in a clinical setting.

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