Over 1 million residents in the USA and 2.5 million in Europe are estimated to have IBD, with substantial costs for health care. These estimates do not factor in the ‘real’ price of IBD, which can impede career aspirations, instil social stigma and impair quality of life in patients. The majority of patients are diagnosed early in life and the incidence continues to rise; therefore, the effect of IBD on health-care systems will rise exponentially. Moreover, IBD has emerged in newly industrialized countries in Asia, South America and Middle East and has evolved into a global disease with rising prevalence in every continent. Understanding the worldwide epidemiological patterns of IBD will prepare us to manage the burden of IBD over time. The goal of this article is to establish the current epidemiology of IBD in the Western world, contrast it with the increase in IBD in newly industrialized countries and forecast the global effects of IBD in 2025.