While dementia affects 6–10% of persons 65 years or older, industrialized countries have witnessed an alarming rise in obesity. However, obesity's influence on dementia remains poorly understood. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis. PUBMED search (1995–2007) resulted in 10 relevant prospective cohort studies of older adults (40–80 years at baseline) with end points being dementia and predictors including adiposity measures, such as body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC). There was a significant U-shaped association between BMI and dementia (P = 0.034), with dementia risk increased for obesity and underweight. Pooled odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for underweight, overweight and obesity compared with normal weight in relation to incident dementia were: 1.36 (1.07, 1.73), 0.88 (0.60, 1.27) and 1.42 (0.93, 2.18) respectively. Pooled ORs and 95% CI for obesity and incident Alzheimer's disease (AD) and vascular dementia were 1.80 (1.00, 3.29) vs. 1.73 (0.47, 6.31) and were stronger in studies with long follow-up (>10 years) and young baseline age (<60 years). Weight gain and high WC or skin-fold thickness increased risks of dementia in all included studies. The meta-analysis shows a moderate association between obesity and the risks for dementia and AD. Future studies are needed to understand optimal weight and biological mechanisms.