OBJECTIVES: To determine prevalence and correlates of fecal incontinence in older community-dwelling adults. DESIGN: A cross-sectional, population-based survey. SETTING: Participants interviewed at home in three rural and two urban counties in Alabama from 1999 to 2001. PARTICIPANTS: The University of Alabama at Birmingham Study of Aging enlisted 1,000 participants from the state Medicare beneficiary lists. The sample was selected to include 25% black men, 25% white men, 25% black women, and 25% white women. MEASUREMENTS: The survey included sociodemographic information, medical conditions, health behaviors, life-space assessment (mobility), and self-reported health status. Fecal incontinence was defined as an affirmative response to the question "In the past year, have you had any loss of control of your bowels, even a small amount that stained the underwear?" Severity was classified as mild if reported less than once a month and moderate to severe if reported once a month or greater. RESULTS: The prevalence of fecal incontinence in the sample was 12.0% (12.4% in men, 11.6% in women; P=.33). Mean age+/-standard deviation was 75.3+/-6.7 and ranged from 65 to 106. In a forward stepwise logistic regression analysis, the following factors were significantly associated with the presence of fecal incontinence in women: chronic diarrhea (odds ratio (OR)=4.55, 95% confidence interval (CI)=2.03-10.20), urinary incontinence (OR=2.65, 95% CI=1.34-5.25), hysterectomy with ovary removal (OR=1.93, 95% CI=1.06-3.54), poor self-perceived health status (OR=1.88, 95% CI=1.01-3.50), and higher Charlson comorbidity score (OR=1.29, 95% CI=1.07-1.55). The following factors were significantly associated with fecal incontinence in men: chronic diarrhea (OR=6.08, 95% CI=2.29-16.16), swelling in the feet and legs (OR=3.49, 95% CI=1.80-6.76), transient ischemic attack/ministroke (OR=3.11, 95% CI=1.30-7.41), Geriatric Depression Scale score greater than 5 (OR=2.83, 95% CI=1.27-6.28), living alone (OR=2.38, 95% CI=1.23-4.62), prostate disease (OR=2.29, 95% CI=1.04-5.02), and poor self-perceived health (OR=2.18, 95% CI=1.13-4.20). The following were found to be associated with increased frequency of fecal incontinence in women: chronic diarrhea (OR=6.39, 95% CI=2.25-18.14), poor self-perceived health (OR=5.37, 95% CI=1.75-16.55), and urinary incontinence (OR=4.96, 95% CI=1.41-17.43). In men, chronic diarrhea (OR=5.38, 95% CI=1.77-16.30), poor self-perceived health (OR=3.91, 95% CI=1.39-11.02), lower extremity swelling (OR=2.86, 95% CI=1.20-6.81), and decreased assisted life-space mobility (OR=0.73, 95% CI=0.49-0.80) were associated with more frequent fecal incontinence. CONCLUSION: In community-dwelling older adults, fecal incontinence is a common condition associated with chronic diarrhea, multiple health problems, and poor self-perceived health. Fecal incontinence should be included in the review of systems for older patients.