Background Although non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the hepatic manifestation of metabolic syndrome, its influence on hypertension development is poorly understood. We investigated whether fatty liver disease, as assessed by the fatty liver index, could predict the development of hypertension independently of systemic insulin resistance, inflammatory status and adipokine levels. Methods Prospective cohort study of 1,521 adults (484 men and 1037 women) aged 40 to 70 years without baseline hypertension examined. An equation was used to calculate fatty liver index and classify patients as follows: fatty liver index <30, no non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; fatty liver index ≥60, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; and 30≤ fatty liver index <60, intermediate fatty liver index. Results During an average of 2.6 years of follow-up, 153 subjects (10.06%) developed hypertension. Fatty liver index was positively associated with baseline blood pressure, homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance, urinary albumin/creatinine excretion, and high sensitivity C-reactive protein. After adjustment for confounding factors, including markers of insulin resistance, systemic inflammation and adiponectin levels, the odds ratio [95% confidence interval] for the incident hypertension increased in a graded manner with fatty liver index (<30 vs. 30-59 vs. ≥60 = 1 vs. 1.83 [1.16∼2.88] vs. 2.09 [1.08∼4.055], respectively). Conclusions Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease assessed by fatty liver index was an independent risk factor for hypertension. Our findings suggest that fatty liver index, a simple surrogate indicator of fatty liver disease, might be useful for identifying subjects at high risk for incident hypertension in clinical practice.