Published in this month's issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the new study aimed to examine what kind of drinks Americans consume, based on age, sex and race.
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 1999 and 2002, researchers led by Maureen Storey of the University of Maryland calculated the overall energy intake from beverages amongst different population groups, as well as consumption of specific beverages including milk, fruit juices, regular and diet soft drinks, fruit drinks, coffee and tea.
Consumption habits were examined in people in age groups 6-11, 12-19, 20-39, 40-59 and over 60.
The findings revealed wide variations in the types of beverages consumed by people of different ethnicities, and also amongst people of different sex and age groups.
The heaviest consumers of regular carbonated soft drinks were white adolescent and young adult males, who consumed on average 1.8 12-oz cans of these a day. Females in the same category consumed between 1.1 and 1.2 12-oz cans daily.
Regular fruit drinks and ades were favored by African Americans and Mexican Americans, with African American adolescents consuming around 2 to 2.5 times as much of these drinks as their white counterparts. According to the researchers, the difference in consumption of fruit drinks amongst older age groups was even more striking, with African American adults generally consuming far more than whites.
Milk consumption was highest amongst young children aged 6-11, but declined steadily with age in all sex and ethnicity groups. African Americans, on average, consumed much lower levels of milk, which can be partly explained by the race's higher levels of lactose intolerance.
Diet soft drinks and coffee were unsurprisingly almost exclusively consumed by people in older age groups. White American adults consumed more coffee on average than any other race. After the age of 40, black men and women tended to increase their coffee consumption, but this still remained significantly lower than that of their white and Mexican American counterparts.
In adolescence, tea consumption increased among whites, but African American and Mexican American adolescents and adults were found to consume very little tea.
The researchers said their study focused only on consumption figures, and did not estimate the association between beverage consumption and any health outcomes, such as weight gain or micronutrient intake. However, they suggested their findings could be used as a baseline for further discussion on these topics.
"In some cases, such as with the low milk consumption among African Americans, nutrition policy may need to explicitly recognize the different dietary opportunities and challenges faced by particular subpopulations," they wrote.
"Targeted fortification of beverages and foods may address vitamin D and calcium deficits, especially among children and adolescents," they added.