Obesity is a rapidly growing problem worldwide and its prevalence among children and adolescents has been rising during the past decades; although in recent years the prevalence in most countries has reached a plateau. Currently, WHO estimates that 42 million children under the age of 5 years are obese. As a consequence, obesity in general has been declared as a disease by WHO in 1948, by the American Medical Association in 2013, and by the Canadian Medical Association in 2015.
Internationally, 20 medical and psychosocial complications have been recognised to be associated with childhood obesity. In particular, complications such as hypertension, dyslipidaemia, fatty liver disease and prediabetes have been associated with a significant increased morbidity and mortality in adulthood. Earlier, these conditions were primarily seen in adults, but currently they are significant manifestations among obese children and adolescents. Thus, approximately 51 % of obese children and adolescents present with pre- or overt hypertension, 29 % have dyslipidaemia, 31% have more than 5% fat in the liver, 74 % have more than 5 % fat in the muscles, 15 % have prediabetes, and 50 % exhibit sleep apnea.
Besides the physical complications, a considerable number of obese children suffer from psychosocial problems. These problems manifest as an example in the form of a reduced quality of life, where obese children has been shown to have a quality of life at the level of children suffering from cancer and have a pronounced tendency to exhibit loneliness, shame and depression.
Several studies have shown that childhood obesity has a genetic component. This is for instance shown in studies of adopted children, in which the weight status of the children are more closely related to their biological parents than their adoptive parents, which clearly demonstrates an important genetic influence besides the environmental impact.
The recent years' progress in the mapping of the human genome has increased the scientific focus on hereditary forms of childhood obesity. Several major studies have identified genetic variations related to the development of obesity, and it is assumed that 50-70% of the heritability can be attributed to specific genes. However, only a small portion of the known genetic background of obesity can explain the prevalence of obesity.