U.S. per capita consumption of fluid cow’s milk has been declining for more than 70 years. During the previous decade it declined at a faster rate than it did during each of the previous six decades. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service data show that the average rate of decrease was 1 percent per year over the 2000s. The decline was 2.6 percent per year in the 2010s.
About 90 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t consume enough dairy products to meet federal dietary recommendations. Declining per capita consumption of fluid cow’s milk prevents those individuals from consuming a diet more line in with the recommendations.
According to the Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, children ages 2 through 10 years should consume 2- to 3 cup-equivalents of dairy products per day with specific quantities based on age, gender and level of physical activity. Individuals older than age 10 should consume 3 cup equivalents. Consuming 1 cup of cow’s milk, 1 cup of fortified soy beverage, 1 cup of yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese contributes 1 cup-equivalent toward meeting daily dairy recommendations.
Although U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and yogurt increased threefold since 1970, trends in fluid cow’s milk consumption prevent overall dairy intake from increasing much above 1.5 cup-equivalents per person per day.
Using data collected between 2003 and 2018 through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, the USDA’s Economic Research Service disaggregate trends in fluid cow’s milk consumption into changes through time in the amounts that individuals drank as milk and in milk drinks, poured into cereal, and added to other types of beverages such as tea and coffee.
Key findings summarized
Drinking is the primary way that people consume fluid cow’s milk. It includes drinking plain and flavored milk as well as malted milk, eggnog, kefir, hot chocolate and other milk-based beverages.
- In 2003-2004, individuals drank about 0.57 cup-equivalents of milk and milk drinks per person per day. That number declined to 0.53 cup-equivalents in 2009-2010 and to 0.33 cup-equivalents in 2017-2018.
- Consumption declined among children, teenagers and adults.
Another way people consume fluid cow’s milk is by pouring it into cold or hot cereal.
- In 2003-2004, individuals used about 0.23 cup-equivalents of milk in cereal per person per day. That number declined to 0.21 cup-equivalents in 2009-2010 and to 0.17 cup-equivalents in 2017-2018.
- Per capita milk consumption with cereal declined primarily among children.
A third way that people consume fluid cow’s milk is by adding it to other types of beverages such as coffee and tea. In 2017-2018, individuals consumed about 0.07 cup-equivalents per person per day that way, about the same amount as in 2003-2004.
Many factors contribute to declining fluid cow’s milk consumption, such as demographic changes and generational changes in the U.S. population. Younger generations who grew up drinking less milk as children appear to consume less at all ages. But even after accounting for demographic and generational changes, there’s still a downward trend in consumption in the survey period. The decline appears to reflect changes in the competitiveness of cow’s milk compared to other beverages at retail stores, as well as the competitiveness of cereal compared to other breakfast options.
Visit ers.usda.gov and search for “per capita consumption of fluid cow’s milk, 2003-18" for more information.