Personality is thought to affect obesity risk but before such information can be incorporated into prevention and intervention plans, robust and converging evidence concerning the most relevant personality traits is needed. We performed a meta-analysis based on individual–participant data from nine cohort studies to examine whether broad-level personality traits predict the development and persistence of obesity (n = 78,931 men and women; mean age 50 years). Personality was assessed using inventories of the Five-Factor Model (extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience). High conscientiousness – reflecting high self-control, orderliness and adherence to social norms – was associated with lower obesity risk across studies (pooled odds ratio [OR] = 0.84; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.80–0.88 per 1 standard deviation increment in conscientiousness). Over a mean follow-up of 5.4 years, conscientiousness predicted lower obesity risk in initially non-obese individuals (OR = 0.88, 95% CI = 0.85–0.92; n = 33,981) and was associated with greater likelihood of reversion to non-obese among initially obese individuals (OR = 1.08, 95% CI = 1.01–1.14; n = 9,657). Other personality traits were not associated with obesity in the pooled analysis, and there was substantial heterogeneity in the associations between studies. The findings indicate that conscientiousness may be the only broad-level personality trait of the Five-Factor Model that is consistently associated with obesity across populations.