Since 1970, per capita fluid milk consumption* has fallen from 0.96 cup-equivalents to about 0.61 cup-equivalents per day, according to a new report from USDA’s economic research service, with each generation consuming less than the previous one.
“The majority of Americans born in the 1990s consume fluid milk less often than those born in the 1970s, who, in turn, consume it less often than those born in the 1950s”, say the authors of ‘Why Are Americans Consuming Less Fluid Milk? A Look at Generational Differences in Intake Frequency’ (click here to read it).
“All other factors constant, as newer generations with reduced demand gradually replace older ones, the population’s average level of consumption of fluid milk may continue to decline.”
The changes are particularly striking in young children, with the share of preadolescents who did not drink any fluid milk on a given day rising from 12% in 1977/78 to 24% in 2007/08, while the share that drank milk three or more times per day dropped from 31% to just 18%.
54% of adolescents and adults did not drink any fluid milk on a given day in 2007/8
Meanwhile, the share of adolescents and adults who did not drink fluid milk on a given day rose from 41% to 54% over the same period.
The report, which analyses dietary intake data from the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), notes that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 3 cups a day for Americans aged over years, but that per capita dairy consumption has long held steady at 1.5 cups, despite rising cheese consumption.
“This stasis in per capita dairy consumption results directly from the fact that Americans are drinking progressively less fluid milk.”
Each successive generation grows up less accustomed than their parents to drinking fluid milk
So is liquid milk consumption in terminal decline?
It certainly looks like it, say the authors, noting that it will likely be “difficult to reverse current consumption trends. In fact, as newer generations replace older ones, the population’s average level of fluid milk consumption may continue to decline.
“Each successive generation grows up less accustomed than their parents to drinking fluid milk and carries that habit forward into adult life.”
One other big change in recent years has been the shift away from full-fat milk with consumption of lower fat milk products accounting for 20% of total consumption in the 1970s and about 70% by the end of the 2000s.
We’re seeing a steady sharp decline in school age milk drinkers
Commenting on this declining trend at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Philadelphia last fall, Dr Erin Quann, director of regulatory affairs at the Dairy Research Institute, said that the percentage of 13-17 year-olds that regularly drink milk has fallen from more than 75% in 1976-80 to just 57% in 2007-10.
“We’re seeing a steady sharp decline in school age milk drinkers and nearly half of teenagers do not drink milk.”
And even teenagers that are drinking milk are drinking less, she noted, with average daily consumption for milk drinkers aged 13-17 falling from about 19 fluid ounces in 1976-80 to around 14 fl oz in 2007-10.
The trends were particularly worrying as milk is a key source of calcium, vitamin D and potassium and these nutrients are not being replaced as kids switch to other beverages, she said.
"They’re losing calories, but they’re also losing nutrients."
*The analysis covered plain and flavored fluid milk consumed alone as a beverage, put in cereal, poured in coffee, or used as an ingredient in coffee drinks.
Click here to read the full report.