Animal studies and one large cross-sectional study of 752 healthy Chinese men and women suggest that monosodium glutamate (MSG) may be associated with overweight/obesity, and these findings raise public concern over the use of MSG as a flavour enhancer in many commercial foods. The aim of this analysis was to investigate a possible association between MSG intake and obesity, and determine whether a greater MSG intake is associated with a clinically significant weight gain over 5 years. Data from 1282 Chinese men and women who participated in the Jiangsu Nutrition Study were analysed. In the present study, MSG intake and body weight were quantitatively assessed in 2002 and followed up in 2007. MSG intake was not associated with significant weight gain after adjusting for age, sex, multiple lifestyle factors and energy intake. When total glutamate intake was added to the model, an inverse association between MSG intake and 5 % weight gain was found (P = 0·028), but when the model was adjusted for either rice intake or food patterns, this association was abolished. These findings indicate that when other food items or dietary patterns are accounted for, no association exists between MSG intake and weight gain.