The prevalence of obesity in children and adults in the United States has increased by more than 30% over the past decade. Recent studies of the physiology and molecular genetics of obesity in humans have provided evidence that body weight (fat) is regulated. Some of the genes encoding the molecular components of this regulatory system have been isolated from rodents. The increasing prevalence of obesity in the United States apparently represents the interaction of these genes with an environment that encourages a sedentary lifestyle and consumption of calories. The rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity emphasizes the role of environmental factors, because genetic changes could not occur at this rate. Thus, understanding of the relevant genes and how their effects are mediated by environment and development should lead to more effective prophylaxis and therapy of obesity. Although no clear environmental factors have been identified as causative of obesity, the rapid increases in the prevalence of obesity and the seeming voluntary immutability of adult body fatness can be taken as tacit evidence that the pediatric environment can be altered in a way that affects adult body weight.