The relationship between excess body weight and gastric cancer risk has not been well studied to date. We therefore carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of published cohort studies to evaluate the association between excess body weight and gastric cancer risk. An electronic search of the MEDLINE, PubMed, EMBASE and Academic Search Premier (EBSCO) databases, which contain articles published from 1950 onwards, was conducted in order to select studies for this meta-analysis. Ten studies with a total number of 9492 gastric cancer cases and a studied population of 3,097,794 were identified. Overall, excess body weight [body mass index (BMI)25] was associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer [odds ratio (OR)=1.22; 95% confidence intervals (CIs)=1.06-1.41]. Specifically, a stratified analysis showed that excess body weight was associated with an increased risk of cardia gastric cancer [overweight and obese (BMI 25), OR=1.55, 95% CIs=1.31-1.84] and gastric cancer among non-Asians (overweight and obese, OR=1.24, 95% CIs=1.14-1.36); however, the stratified analysis also showed that there was no statistically significant link between excess body weight and gastric cancer in the following subgroups: males (overweight and obese, OR=1.22, 95% CIs=0.96-1.55), females (overweight and obese, OR=1.13, 95% CIs=0.65-1.94), non-cardia gastric cancer (overweight and obese, OR=1.18, 95% CIs=0.96-1.45) and Asians (overweight and obese, OR=1.17, 95% CIs=0.88-1.56). The combined results of this meta-analysis, however, do indicate that overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer. The strength of the association also increases with increasing BMI.