Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is traditionally considered to be common in the Western world, and its incidence has sharply increased since the early 1950s. In contrast, until the last decade, low prevalence and incidence rates have been reported from other parts of the world including Eastern Europe, South America, Asia and the Pacific region. Recent trends indicate a change in the epidemiology of IBD with previously low incidence areas now reporting a progressive rise in the incidence, while in West European and North American countries the figures have stabilized or slightly increased, with decreasing incidence rates for ulcerative colitis. Some of these changes may represent differences in diagnostic practices and increasing awareness of the disease. The quality of studies is also variable. Additional epidemiologic studies are needed to better define the burden of illness, explore the mechanism of association with environmental factors, and identify new risk factors.