AMERICANS are drinking less and less milk — a trend that has been noted since the 1970s and has been the consequence of decreased milk drinking occasions rather than decreased portions, according to a new study by the U.S. Economic Research Service (ERS).
Based on data from the mid-1970s and 2008, Americans are drinking less milk now with their lunch and dinner meals than in the 1970s, which has reduced the number of milk drinking occasions (Figure 1), ERS said.
Furthermore, more recent generations have shown a greater reduction in milk drinking frequency, ERS said, reporting that Americans born in the 1990s consume milk less often than those born in the 1970s, who, in turn, consume less milk than those born in the 1950s.
It's likely that each successive generation will have fewer milk drinking occasions and will consume less milk than their parents, and milk consumption in the U.S. will continue to decline, according to the study.
ERS said most Americans do not consume enough dairy products: The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" recommends two cup equivalents of dairy products per day for children two to three years old, 2.5 cup equivalents for children four to eight years old and three cup equivalents for all older children and adults, but consumption has held steady at 1.5 cups for many years.
Americans are increasing cheese consumption, which means this decrease in dairy consumption is due to drinking less and less milk, consumption of which has declined from 0.96 cup in 1970 to 0.61 cup today, ERS said.
The study found that, between 1977-78 and 2007-08:
* The percentage of preadolescent children who did not drink milk on a given day increased from 12% to 24%, while the share who drank milk three or more times per day decreased from 31% to 18%, and
* The percentage of adolescents and adults who did not drink milk on a given day increased from 41% to 54%, while the share who drank milk three or more times per day decreased from 13% to 4%.
Despite industry and public efforts to encourage milk consumption, it will be "difficult" to reverse these trends, ERS said, and the amount of milk consumed is likely to continue to decline.
ERS noted that data indicate that there is a positive correlation between dairy industry milk promotions and milk consumption and between children's participation in school breakfast and lunch programs and milk consumption.
However, the agency said "cohort effects" apparently are exerting "a greater impact on consumption in the opposite direction."
Cohort effects are observed when members of the same generation make similar choices — including, in this matter, choices in food and milk consumption — that are different from the choices of people who are older, ERS explained.
As to cohort effects on milk consumption, ERS said Americans born in the 1960s are drinking 0.13 cup less whole milk and 0.28 cup less lower-fat milk per day than those born prior to 1930, while Americans born in the 1980s are drinking 0.16 cup less whole milk and 0.13 cup less lower-fat milk than those born in the 1960s.
Moreover, every generation has wider beverage selections available at restaurants and supermarkets — from bottled water to soft drinks and sport drinks — that increasingly compete with milk, ERS said.
This trend has been especially noticeable as quick-service restaurants have become more popular, ERS said.
Studies clearly show that the habit to drink milk forms in childhood, ERS said, and "individuals who drink milk at an early age are more likely to (continue drinking milk) as adults."
The ERS study is available at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err-149.aspx.
In its study, ERS also reported some data concerning what influences the frequency of milk purchases.
ERS, looking at 2007-08 purchases, found that conventionally produced, low-fat milk in 1 gal. containers were the most-often purchased milk product, accounting for 28% of milk purchases, while organic milk accounted for 3% of purchases (Figure 2).
ERS researchers also found that increases in household income and milk prices prompted increases in purchases of low-fat milk but also prompted increases in purchases of organic milk.
Generally, ERS said, demand for organic milk is more sensitive to income swings than is demand for conventional milk.