Fluid Milk Consumption Continues Downward Trend, Proving Difficult to Reverse

Fluid cow’s milk has long been a grocery staple for most U.S. households. However, as dietary habits change, individuals are drinking less milk on average. The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System shows that U.S. daily per capita consumption of fluid milk decreased over each of the past seven decades. Between 1990 and 2000, it fell from 0.78 cup to 0.69 cup (an 11.5-percent decline). By 2010, it was down to 0.62 cup (10.1 percent lower than it had been in 2000). Compared with each of the previous six decades, U.S. daily per person fluid milk consumption fell at its fastest rate in the 2010s. In 2019, it was 0.49 cup (20.7 percent lower than in 2010).

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, recommend individuals consume 2- to 3 cup-equivalents of dairy products per day depending on their age, gender, and level of physical activity. One cup of fluid cow’s milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese each contribute 1 cup-equivalent toward meeting daily dairy recommendations. One cup of fortified soy beverage also counts as 1 cup-equivalent of dairy product. Other plant-based products bearing two-part names (almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and others) are not included as part of the dairy group because their overall nutritional content is not similar to that of dairy milk.

Despite Government and industry efforts, about 90 percent of the U.S. population does not meet the Dietary Guidelines’ dairy recommendations. Although U.S. per capita cheese and yogurt consumption has more than tripled since 1970, U.S. per capita consumption of all dairy products peaked in 1987 at 1.57 cup-equivalents per day. People drank less milk during the 1990s and 2000s, more or less offsetting increases in consumption of other dairy products. In 2009, consumption of U.S. dairy products was 1.55 cup-equivalents per person per day. By 2019, it was 1.49 cup-equivalents, weighed down by the faster rate of declines in milk consumption.

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