Research shows per capita consumption of fluid cow’s milk as been decreasing for over 70 years. This study aims to examine consumption by disaggregating trends among fluid cow’s milk consumption over time using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data between 2003-2018. Changes in the amount of milk and milk drinks that individuals drank, the amount poured into cereal, and the amount poured into other beverages (such as coffee and tea) were measured. Pooled data from eight NHANES cycles were examined (between 2003-2018) and statistical models were estimated for different age groups. This Issue of Research on Drinks: What’s Trending will focus on the results of children (ages 12 and under). For adults and teenagers please refer to the full report. Results showed that children are drinking less milk and consuming less milk with cereal.  Drinking milk and milk beverages is down 26% from 1.07 cup-equivalents per person per day in 2003–04 to 0.79 in 2017-18.  Also, during that time, consumption of milk with cereal decreased by 35% from 0.39 cup equivalents to 0.25 cup equivalents.  At home consumption of milk decreased by 44% between 2003-2004 to 2017-2018. Results of milk consumption at school were inconclusive. Only two percent of children add milk to other drinks (such as tea) and there were no clear trends in consumption data.

Study strengths: This study utilizes data from NHANES, which is a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population that uses a complex, multistage probability sampling design.  This study offered a unique perspective on milk consumption trends over time that previous research has not addressed.

Study limitations: Many factors that may relate to milk consumption were not studied here.   In addition, children’s overall consumption of dairy (e.g.,yogurt, cheese), was not addressed.

What this means for your practice: Previous research indicates that low milk consumption in youth is associated with reduced consumption of milk in adulthood, small stature and poor bone health. Talking to the parents/guardians of your young patients about the importance of milk and other dairy foods may set your patients up for a lifetime of nutritional benefits from dairy foods. Per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children aged 2 to 10 years-old should consume 2 to 3 low-fat or non-fat dairy servings per day. Encourage patients choosing a diary alternative to opt for fortified soy products. Other “milk” alternatives may be lacking essential nutrients for growing kids. For a nutritional comparison of cow’s milk and milk substitutes, click here.   For more information about dairy or serving sizes, refer your patients to www.choosemyplate.gov.

Original citation: Stewart, H., Kuchler, F., Dong, D., & Cessna, J. (2021). Examining the Decline in US Per Capita Consumption of Fluid Cow’s Milk, 2003–18. Accessed at: www.ers.usda.gov

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