Obesity is associated with an increased risk of esophageal disorders, including esophageal adenocarcinoma, Barrett esophagus and GERD. For reasons yet unknown, the association between obesity and esophageal adenocarcinoma seems to be stronger than that for other types of obesity-related cancers. Predominantly abdominal or intra-abdominal adiposity (representing visceral fat and other fat within the abdominal cavity), which is more frequently observed in men than in women, is more strongly linked with these esophageal disorders than BMI alone, a finding that might contribute to the striking male predominance of esophageal adenocarcinoma. Research has identified potential mechanisms underlying the strong link between obesity and esophageal conditions. These findings are summarized in this Review, but more research remains to be carried out before these mechanisms are established.