Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common form of chronic liver disease, and serum uric acid is observed to be significantly elevated in NAFLD patients. However, whether this elevation is causal, a bystander, or a consequence of NAFLD remains unclear. We performed a population-based prospective study among the employees of Zhenhai Refining & Chemical Company Ltd., Ningbo, China to investigate whether the elevation of serum uric acid has a casual role for NAFLD. A total of 6890 initially NAFLD-free subjects were followed up for 3 years. Overall, 11.80% (813/6890) subjects developed NAFLD over 3 years of follow-up. The cumulative incidence of NAFLD increased with progressively higher baseline serum uric acid levels (the cumulative incidence was 7.2%, 9.5%, 11.5%, 13.8%, and 17.2% in quintile 1, quintile 2, 3, 4 and 5, respectively; P value for trend <0.001). Cox proportional hazards regression analyses showed that serum uric acid levels were independently and positively associated with the risk for incident NAFLD; the age-, gender- and metabolic syndrome adjusted hazard ratio (95% CI) for the subjects in quintile 2, 3, 4 and 5 versus quintile 1 was 1.18 (0.91-1.54), 1.32 (1.03-1.70), 1.39 (1.09-1.78) and 1.50 (1.18-1.92), respectively. Taken together, our prospective observational study showed that elevation of serum uric acid levels independently predicts increase risk for incident NAFLD.