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Objective: Obesity is a significant risk factor for adverse outcomes following coronavirus infection (COVID-19). However, BMI fails to capture differences in the body fat distribution, the critical driver of metabolic health. Conventional statistical methodologies lack functionality to investigate the causality between fat distribution and disease outcomes. Methods: We applied Bayesian network (BN) modelling to explore the mechanistic link between body fat deposition and hospitalisation risk in 459 participants with COVID-19 (395 non-hospitalised and 64 hospitalised). MRI-derived measures of visceral adipose tissue (VAT), subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT), and liver fat were included. Conditional probability queries were performed to estimate the probability of hospitalisation after fixing the value of specific network variables. Results: The probability of hospitalisation was 18% higher in people living with obesity than those with normal weight, with elevated VAT being the primary determinant of obesity-related risk. Across all BMI categories, elevated VAT and liver fat (>10%) were associated with a 39% mean increase in the probability of hospitalisation. Among those with normal weight, reducing liver fat content from >10% to <5% reduced hospitalisation risk by 29%. Conclusion: Body fat distribution is a critical determinant of COVID-19 hospitalisation risk. BN modelling and probabilistic inferences assist our understanding of the mechanistic associations between imaging-derived phenotypes and COVID-19 hospitalisation risk.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Bioinform

Publication Date





Bayesian networks, COVID-19, ectopic fat, hospitalisation, probabilistic reasoning