The objective of this study is to examine the trends in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC) and prevalence of overweight (BMI 25–27.49 kg m−2), general obesity (BMI ≥ 27.5 kg m−2) and abdominal obesity (WC ≥ 90 cm for men and ≥80 cm for women) among Chinese adults from 1993 to 2009. Data were obtained from the China Health and Nutrition Survey, which was conducted from 1993 to 2009 and included a total of 52,621 Chinese adults. During the period of 1993–2009, mean BMI values increased by 1.6 kg m−2 among men and 0.8 kg m−2 among women; mean WC values increased by 7.0 cm among men and 4.7 cm among women. The prevalence of overweight increased from 8.0 to 17.1% among men (P < 0.001) and from 10.7 to 14.4% among women (P < 0.001); the prevalence of general obesity increased from 2.9 to 11.4% among men (P < 0.001) and from 5.0 to 10.1% among women (P < 0.001); the prevalence of abdominal obesity increased from 8.5 to 27.8% among men (P < 0.001) and from 27.8 to 45.9% among women (P < 0.001). Similar significant trends were observed in nearly all age groups and regions for both men and women. The prevalence of overweight, general obesity and abdominal obesity among Chinese adults has increased greatly during the past 17 years.