Majority of adults suffer in silence from digestive discomfort

A national attitudinal survey about Irish adults’ digestive health conducted on behalf of Danone Activia has found that the majority of Irish adults are suffering in silence from digestive health issues despite the fact that poor digestive health can potentially lead to more serious health issues.

The survey found that digestive discomfort causes 30 per cent of Galwegians to feel less attractive, while seven per cent claim digestive discomfort impacts on their libido.

The Danone Activia Digestive Health Survey has found that 83 per cent of adults aged 25 to 34 suffer from bloating or a swollen belly regularly and that 38 per cent of adults reported symptoms such as feeling heavy and slow digestion more than once a week. Two in five adults stated they experience symptoms of digestive discomfort at least one a week, while almost half of those questioned said they suffer from constipation at least twice a month. However, only six per cent said that they proactively consult their GP or a health care professional when they are experiencing digestive discomfort, which would suggest that the majority are suffering in silence.

The survey of over 1,000 people found that women are more than twice as likely as men to be emotionally affected by the effects of digestive discomfort, with 35 per cent of women stating that they feel less attractive when suffering from the symptoms, versus only 15 per cent of men.

When asked about the effects of a bloated tummy specifically, women are twice as likely to worry about what they look like in their swimwear (40 per cent versus 23 per cent of men ). Digestive health and associated symptoms of discomfort have a considerable impact on individuals’ day-to-day lives — 51 per cent say that they are low in energy or feel tired, 44 per cent feel bloated, almost 30 per cent feel in a bad mood, and 10 per cent experience reduced libido. Despite the prevalence of symptoms, only two per cent take time off work when suffering from varying levels of discomfort.

While only six per cent of those polled consult a doctor or nurse when they are experiencing discomfort, it is encouraging that people are looking at diet and lifestyle changes in order to alleviate symptoms. Six in every 10 people asked said that they drink more water, three in 10 consume probiotic yoghurt, and half of respondents are more careful about what they eat. The majority of respondents feel that a healthy diet can have an important role to play in ensuring a healthy digestive system and 80 per cent believe that they two are closely related.

Consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh said that the survey findings are consistent with what she sees in her own practice: “Digestive health is not something that people – especially Irish people - are comfortable discussing, and as such people don’t realise that something needs attention.

“Yet poor digestive health could lead to more serious illnesses like colorectal or bowel cancer — the second most common cancer in Ireland. In 2009, there were 2,271 people diagnosed with bowel cancer. Therefore raising awareness of this issue is very important, and campaigns that promote digestive health awareness – such as this – have an important role to play in disseminating this message to the general population.

“I would suggest that people keep a food diary for a few weeks to see if there is any pattern between what they are consuming and when they suffer from the symptoms of digestive discomfort. Small changes can make a big difference: a little more fibre, a little more water, probiotics every day — all of these things can ensure a healthier digestive system. If you do have concerns about your digestive health, it is very important that you consult a healthcare professional and get informed advice.”

For tips on how to help reduce your digestive discomfort visit


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