The new millennium has seen distinct changes in the pattern of gastrointestinal disease in the Asia–Pacific region. These changes are important as more than half of the world's population come from the region and therefore impact significantly on the global disease burden. The highest incidence of gastric cancer (GCA) has been reported from Asia and GCA remains a very important cancer. However time-trend studies have shown a decrease in GCA incidence in several countries in Asia. A rise in cardio-esophageal cancers as seen in the West has not been reported. On the other hand, colorectal cancer has been steadily increasing in Asia with age-standardized incidence rates of some countries approaching that of the West. The pattern of acid-related diseases has also changed. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a fast emerging disease with an increasing prevalence of reflux esophagitis and reflux symptoms. The prevalence of peptic ulcer disease has at the same time declined in step with a decrease in H. pylori infection. Many of the changes taking place mirror the Western experience of several decades ago. Astute observation of the epidemiology of emerging diseases combined with good scientific work will allow a clearer understanding of the key processes underlying these changes. With rapid modernization, lifestyle changes have been blamed for an increase in several diseases including gastroesophageal reflux disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and colorectal cancer. A worrying trend has been the increase in obesity among Asians, which has been associated with an increase in metabolic diseases and various gastrointestinal cancers. Conversely, an improvement in living conditions has been closely linked to the decrease in GCA and H. pylori prevalence.