NAFLD--regarded as a consequence of the modern sedentary, food-abundant lifestyle prevalent in the West--was recorded in Japan nearly 50 years ago and its changing epidemiology during the past three decades is well-documented. NAFLD, and its pathologically more severe form NASH, occur in genetically susceptible people who are over-nourished. Asian people are particularly susceptible, partly owing to body composition differences in fat and muscle. Community prevalence ranges between 20% (China), 27% (Hong Kong), and 15-45% (South Asia, South-East Asia, Korea, Japan and Taiwan). This Review presents emerging data on genetic polymorphisms that predispose Asian people to NAFLD, NASH and cirrhosis, and discusses the clinical and pathological outcomes of these disorders. NAFLD is unlikely to be less severe in Asians than in other populations, but the associated obesity and diabetes pandemics have occurred more recently in Asia than in Europe and the USA, and occur with reduced degrees of adiposity. Cases of cryptogenic cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma have also been attributed to NAFLD. Public health efforts to curb over-nutrition and insulin resistance are needed to prevent and/or reverse NAFLD, as well as its adverse health outcomes of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular events, cirrhosis and liver cancer.