Abstract Backgrounds Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has become the most common chronic liver disease in Asians. However, data on prevalence and factors associated with NAFLD in Asians are lacking. The aim of this study is to investigate the prevalence of NAFLD in Shanghai employees to assess the relationship between NAFLD and age, gender, metabolic risk factors in this studied population. Methods We selected 7152 employees of Shanghai work-units. Each of them underwent detailed medical history-taking, physical examination, laboratory assessments and abdominal ultrasonography. The diagnosis of NAFLD was done according to established criteria. Receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curves were applied to detect areas under the ROC curves for each index. Nominal logistic regression analysis was used to estimate the odds ratio for risk factors of NAFLD. Results About 38.17% employees had NAFLD, more in men than in women. The prevalence of NAFLD increased with increasing age. In both genders, the prevalence of metabolic factors was higher in the NAFLD group. Body max index, waist circumference, weight-to-height ratio, blood pressure, blood glucose, total cholesterol, triglyceride, low density lipoprotein, high density lipoprotein and uric acid were found to have a diagnostic value for NAFLD. Body max index is a better index for diagnosing NAFLD. Uric acid is a new diagnosing index not inferior to lipid metabolic factors. Metabolic factors can increase the risk of NAFLD up to 1.5 ~ 3.8 times. Conclusions Older age, male gender, metabolic factors such as obesity, abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension or type 2 diabetes are risk factors for NAFLD. Prevalence of NAFLD in Shanghai employees is high. Prevention is extremely important. Those achieve the critical point should have early intervention.