Obesity is a significant health problem in westernized societies, particularly in the United States where it has reached epidemic proportions in both adults and children. The prevalence of childhood obesity has doubled in the past 30 years. The causation is complex with multiple sources, including an obesity promoting environment with plentiful highly dense food sources and overall decreased physical activity noted for much of the general population, but genetic factors clearly play a role. Advances in genetic technology using candidate gene approaches, genome-wide association studies, structural and expression microarrays, and next generation sequencing have led to the discovery of hundreds of genes recognized as contributing to obesity. Polygenic and monogenic causes of obesity are now recognized including dozens of examples of syndromic obesity with Prader-Willi syndrome, as a classical example and recognized as the most common known cause of life-threatening obesity. Genetic factors playing a role in the causation of obesity will be discussed along with the growing evidence of single genes and the continuum between monogenic and polygenic obesity. The clinical and genetic aspects of four classical but rare obesity-related syndromes (ie, Prader-Willi, Alström, fragile X, and Albright hereditary osteodystrophy) will be described and illustrated in this review of single gene and syndromic causes of obesity.
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