Overweight and obesity in youth are important public health concerns and are of particular interest because of possible long-term associations with adult weight status and morbidity. The aim of this study was to systematically review the literature and update evidence concerning persistence of childhood overweight. A computerized bibliographical search - restricted to studies with a prospective or retrospective longitudinal design - was conducted. Two authors independently extracted data and assessed the methodological quality of the included studies in four dimensions (i) study population and participation rate; (ii) study attrition; (iii) data collection and (iv) data analysis. Conclusions were based on a rating system of three levels of evidence. A total of 25 publications were selected for inclusion in this review. According to a methodological quality assessment, 13 studies were considered to be of high quality. The majority of these high-quality studies were published after 2001, indicating that recently published data, in particular, provide us with reliable information. All included studies consistently report an increased risk of overweight and obese youth becoming overweight adults, suggesting that the likelihood of persistence of overweight into adulthood is moderate for overweight and obese youth. However, predictive values varied considerably. Limiting aspects with respect to generalizability and methodological issues are discussed. © 2008 The Authors.