american gut check

You learn very early on that everybody poops, but your stools can also say a lot about your health. The consistency, color, and texture might indicate what’s going on inside of you, and some of these characteristics may even suggest more serious health conditions. So it isn’t exactly gross to look before you flush; in fact, it might be smart.

To understand more about digestive health in the U.S., we polled over 2,000 people about the most intimate parts of their bathroom time. Read on to see what we discovered.

Toilet consensus

When we asked about bowel movement frequency, almost half of respondents told us that they pooped once per day. What’s considered “normal” can actually vary from person to person — anywhere from three bowel movements a day to three a week. Generally, the number of bowel movements per day is determined by what you eat (and how much fiber you consume), how much water you drink, and how much you exercise.

More than 61 percent of respondents said that their typical bowel movement was in the morning. Your digestive system processes all the food you’ve eaten throughout the day at night, so your body is ready to have a bowel movement in the morning. An early cup of coffee could be related too — research has shown that the acidity from coffee can accelerate a bowel movement.

Roughly 50 percent of those we surveyed told us that the consistency of their typical bowel movement was like a sausage: smooth and either soft or cracked on the surface. However, the other half described a consistency that may be cause for concern. Stool that is too soft or too hard may be a sign of poor digestive health.

Too much or not enough?

Being blocked up or having to go immediately can cause inconveniences and may indicate health problems.

Respondents were more likely to experience diarrhea than constipation; almost 36 percent experienced diarrhea once a month. This may be due to poor diet, but it could also be caused by a food intolerance. Diarrhea can also indicate more serious conditions, like food poisoning.

On the flip side, almost 30 percent of respondents said they were constipated about once a month, and over 13 percent experienced constipation much more frequently. Constipation could occur for a number of reasons, from poor diet to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and intestinal obstructions.

Some conditions may be considered medical emergencies, so it’s important to be aware of your stool patterns. If you’re experiencing constipation or diarrhea for more than two days in a row, you may want to contact your doctor.

Identifying the discomfort

Common reasons uncomfortable bowel movements might occur include food intolerances and certain health conditions.

Of those we surveyed, nearly 1 in 4 had a food allergy or intolerance. Dairy, wheat, eggs, corn, and soy were the most common food sensitivities. More than 1 in 5 respondents were diagnosed with a condition that affected the frequency or consistency of their bowel movements. The most common conditions included:

  • heartburn or acid reflux
  • IBS
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • diverticulosis or diverticulitis
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • celiac disease

Although over 20 percent of respondents had a food allergy or condition that affected their stool, only 14 percent of respondents had ever had a colonoscopy; only 16 percent had visited a gastroenterologist. If you have uncomfortable bowel movements along with food intolerances or the above health conditions, a doctor can recommend lifestyle changes or treatments to help reduce your discomfort.

Pit stop

Most respondents cited lack of privacy when asked why they would typically put off a potty break — nearly 29 percent preferred to be alone to “go” comfortably. In fact, 87 percent would be more likely to go in public if they could use a private, single-occupancy restroom.

Other popular reasons for passing on passing included embarrassment, being in a rush, or the dirtiness of a public restroom. However, almost 27 percent of respondents wouldn't hold it in. While holding it is OK once in a while, it can cause constipation and colon damage if you hold it too often.

When it comes to masking the musk of number twos, almost 42 percent preferred to use air fresheners. Over 33 percent used the exhaust fan, and nearly 16 percent said they don’t use anything at all.

Levels of (dis)comfort

Sometimes having a bowel movement at home just isn’t an option, so where are people comfortable going? In general, men were more comfortable than women pooping just about anywhere. The only location women were more comfortable pooping than men was at home.

The least relaxing locations for both men and women were restaurants, malls, and bars.

Using the restroom around your significant other is a big step in any relationship. How long should you wait? Both men and women largely agreed that you could go anytime: Over 30 percent of men and 28 percent of women said they wouldn’t wait before using the bathroom at a partner's house to poop. Over 28 percent of men and 22 percent of women said they would wait between one and three months before relieving themselves in a date’s home.

State of the bathroom break

According to our survey, Northeasterners were the most comfortable pooping in their partner's home.

The least comfortable region was the South. We all poop, so there really shouldn’t be anything to be embarrassed about. But maybe their Southern manners hold them back?

Nice to be normal

Although the Northeast is the most comfortable going around their partners, it’s the West that has the most normal bowel movements. The Northeast comes in second, and Midwesterners have the third-most-normal movements.

Those in the South identified as having the least normal bowel movements, so maybe that explains why they’re hesitating to go around their partner. (However, it may be worth getting a physician involved. Identifying what might be causing an unhealthy bowel movement can help you treat it!)

No age discrimination

When we asked participants to identify their age, we found a few generational gaps between how people in the U.S. experienced regular bowel movements.

Baby boomers were the most likely to have a bowel movement at least once per day, and also to have more normal bowel movements (according to the Bristol Stool Chart) over Gen Xers and millennials. Baby boomers were also the most likely to have a food intolerance or bowel disease, but they had a colonoscopy and visited a gastroenterologist more regularly. Taking care of your digestive health is just as important as any other kind of wellness. Many of the health conditions that cause uncomfortable bowel movements can be managed with the right care.

On the other end of the spectrum, millennials admitted to being constipated or having diarrhea at least once a month — more than the other generations. They were also the hippest to new trends like the Squatty Potty (or similar products).

We all do it

It’s a fact of life that everybody poops, but not all poop is created equal. While your bowel movements may usually be normal and healthy, every now and then you might experience a little constipation, or maybe your poop turns a funny shade of green (which is normal and can happen to anyone).

Understanding what contributes to your digestive health will help you be more aware of the impact certain foods and activities may have on your body. It will also help you know when it might be time to consult your doctor.

Your bowel movements tell a better story of your health than you might think. If your stools don’t paint the rosiest picture, Healthline.com is here to help. We provide resources and data on common digestive issues and can connect you with a local healthcare provider today. Our mission is to be your most trusted ally in the pursuit of health and well-being. For more on digestive health or any other medical issues, visit Healthline.com.

Methodology

Using Survey Monkey, we surveyed over 2,000 people in the United States about their bowel health and habits.

Fair use

Follow your gut and share this project (for noncommercial purposes). However, practice good hygiene — er, internet etiquette — and link your readers back to this page.