A retrospective, cross-sectional telephone survey (n=2090) was conducted in Ontario, Canada, between May 2005 and April 2006, to determine the burden of acute gastrointestinal illness in the population. The 4-week prevalence was 8·56% (95% CI 7·36–9·76); in households with more than one resident, 35% of cases reported someone else in their household had similar symptoms at the same time. The annual adjusted incidence rate was 1·17 (95% CI 0·99–1·35) episodes per person-year, with higher rates in females, rural residents, and in the winter and spring. Health care was sought by 22% of cases, of which 33% were asked to provide a stool sample. Interestingly, 2·2% of cases who did not visit a health-care provider reported self-administering antibiotics. Overall, acute gastrointestinal illness appears to pose a significant burden in the Ontario population. Further research into the specific aetiologies and risk factors is now needed to better target intervention strategies.