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Background: Higher body mass index (BMI) and metabolic consequences of excess weight are associated with increased risk of severe COVID-19, though their mediating pathway is unclear. Methods: A prospective cohort study included 435,504 UK Biobank participants. A two-sample Mendelian randomisation (MR) study used the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative in 1.6 million participants. We examined associations of total adiposity, body composition, fat distribution and metabolic consequences of excess weight, particularly type 2 diabetes, with incidence and severity of COVID-19, assessed by test positivity, hospital admission, intensive care unit (ICU) admission and death. Results: BMI and body fat were associated with COVID-19 in the observational and MR analyses but muscle mass was not. The observational study suggested the association with central fat distribution was stronger than for BMI, but there was little evidence from the MR analyses than this was causal. There was evidence that strong associations of metabolic consequences with COVID-19 outcomes in observational but not MR analyses. Type 2 diabetes was strongly associated with COVID-19 in observational but not MR analyses. In adjusted models, the observational analysis showed that the association of BMI with COVID-19 diminished, while central fat distribution and metabolic consequences of excess weight remained strongly associated. In contrast, MR showed the reverse, with only BMI retaining a direct effect on COVID-19. Conclusions: Excess total adiposity is probably casually associated with severe COVID-19. Mendelian randomisation data do not support causality for the observed associations of central fat distribution or metabolic consequences of excess adiposity with COVID-19.

Original publication




Journal article


International Journal of Obesity

Publication Date