Childhood obesity is a complex condition involving medical, social, moral and cultural issues. Qualitative approaches are of great value in understanding this complexity. This meta-synthesis of 45 qualitative studies deals specifically with the issue of obesity in children and adolescents from different perspectives – those of obese children and adolescents, of parents, and of health professionals providing support to the family. Our aim was to obtain a coherent view of child and adolescent obesity, focused on clinical and personal experience. The themes derived from the synthesis process fall under three main axes: ‘Seeing others, seeing oneself’, ‘Understanding others, understanding oneself’, and ‘Treating others, treating oneself’. It emerges that participants in all three groups had equal difficulty in perceiving and labelling obesity, mainly because of their lack of any real common ground. The insufficiency of shared representations destabilizes the therapeutic relationship and its construction: an important issue in the doctor–child–parent relationship in this context is the need to exchange their viewpoints of obesity. Health workers may also expand their understanding of obesity by incorporating the personal experiences of obese children and their parents in order to match treatment plans to their needs and expectations.