More research is now focused on pancreatic steatosis. Multiple definitions, clinical associations and synonyms for pancreatic steatosis are described in the literature and can be confusing. The integration and comparison of several studies concerning this topic is therefore challenging. In the past, pancreatic steatosis was considered an innocuous condition, a bystander of many underlying diseases (such as congenital syndromes, hemochromatosis and viral infection). However, evidence that pancreatic steatosis (strongly associated with obesity and the metabolic syndrome) has a role in type 2 diabetes mellitus, pancreatic exocrine dysfunction, acute pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and the formation of pancreatic fistula after pancreatic surgery is emerging. This Review focuses on the different etiological factors and the clinical consequences of pancreatic steatosis.