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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Analysis of lifestyle and metabolic predictors of visceral obesity with Bayesian Networks

Alex Aussem1*, André Tchernof2, Sérgio Rodrigues de Morais1 and Sophie Rome3

Author Affiliations

1 University of Lyon, F-69000, Lyon; University of Lyon 1, LIESP Laboratory, 69622 Villeurbanne, France

2 Endocrinology and Genomics, Laval University Medical Center and Department of Nutrition, Laval University, Quebec, Canada

3 RMND INSERM U870; INRA 1235, University of Lyon 1, 69622 Villeurbanne, France

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:487  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-487

Published: 28 September 2010



The aim of this study was to provide a framework for the analysis of visceral obesity and its determinants in women, where complex inter-relationships are observed among lifestyle, nutritional and metabolic predictors. Thirty-four predictors related to lifestyle, adiposity, body fat distribution, blood lipids and adipocyte sizes have been considered as potential correlates of visceral obesity in women. To properly address the difficulties in managing such interactions given our limited sample of 150 women, bootstrapped Bayesian networks were constructed based on novel constraint-based learning methods that appeared recently in the statistical learning community. Statistical significance of edge strengths was evaluated and the less reliable edges were pruned to increase the network robustness. To allow accessible interpretation and integrate biological knowledge into the final network, several undirected edges were afterwards directed with physiological expertise according to relevant literature.


Extensive experiments on synthetic data sampled from a known Bayesian network show that the algorithm, called Recursive Hybrid Parents and Children (RHPC), outperforms state-of-the-art algorithms that appeared in the recent literature. Regarding biological plausibility, we found that the inference results obtained with the proposed method were in excellent agreement with biological knowledge. For example, these analyses indicated that visceral adipose tissue accumulation is strongly related to blood lipid alterations independent of overall obesity level.


Bayesian Networks are a useful tool for investigating and summarizing evidence when complex relationships exist among predictors, in particular, as in the case of multifactorial conditions like visceral obesity, when there is a concurrent incidence for several variables, interacting in a complex manner. The source code and the data sets used for the empirical tests are available at