Obesity results from a complex interaction between diet, physical activity, and the environment. The built environment encompasses a range of physical and social elements that make up the structure of a community and may influence obesity. This review summarizes existing empirical research relating the built environment to obesity. The Medline, PsychInfo, and Web of Science databases were searched using the keywords "obesity" or "overweight" and "neighborhood" or "built environment" or "environment." The search was restricted to English-language articles conducted in human populations between 1966 and 2007. To meet inclusion criteria, articles had to 1) have a direct measure of body weight and 2) have an objective measure of the built environment. A total of 1,506 abstracts were obtained, and 20 articles met the inclusion criteria. Most articles (84%) reported a statistically significant positive association between some aspect of the built environment and obesity. Several methodological issues were of concern, including the inconsistency of measurements of the built environment across studies, the cross-sectional design of most investigations, and the focus on aspects of either diet or physical activity but not both. Given the importance of the physical and social contexts of individual behavior and the limited success of individual-based interventions in long-term obesity prevention, more research on the impact of the built environment on obesity is needed.