Study finds Americans drinking less milk

By Ryan Cornell

Got milk?

Apparently not — or at least, not as much as your parents did — according to a study published in the September issue of the Virginia Dairyman.

The study, titled “Why are Americans consuming less fluid milk? A look at generational difference in intake frequency,” shows a sharp decline in milk consumption among Americans over the past 40 years.

Conducted by Hayden Stewart, Diansheng Dong and Andrea Carlson in May, the three USDA economic researchers analyzed data from five USDA dietary intake surveys stretching from 1977 to 2008. They concluded that not only are Americans today drinking less milk than ever before — 0.61 cup-equivalents per day compared to 0.96 cup-equivalents in 1970 — but also that each generation drinks less milk than the one before it.

“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 1950,” the study states.

Add the milk mustache look to the endangered list; it may never go back in style. Eric Paulson, executive secretary and treasurer of the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association, said the decline is one casualty of the modern-day lifestyle.

“We don’t sit down with our families at the breakfast table anymore,” he said. “Everything is on-the-go.”

He said cheese consumption has increased, while Greek yogurt has become “wildly popular,” but Americans who get their dairy fix through fluid milk are aging. Dairy exports have actually increased, he said, and constitute 15 percent of its total products.

Meanwhile, Virginia ranks near the middle of U.S. dairy production with 680 licensed dairy herds.

The introduction of attractive new sodas, energy drinks and juices on store shelves have translated to less milk jugs on refrigerator shelves.

“It was a habit, you went to the grocery store each week to pick up a gallon of milk,” he said. “Now there are a lot more options. I think the younger generation might not have that habit.”

He said the milk industry needs to evolve and change its strategy to appeal to the younger generation, either by partnering with other breakfast products such as Quaker Oats or updating its labels and branding.

“My own opinion is, when you look at milk, there’s no brand recognition,” he said. “It’s almost more of a commodity than a brand. When you go to the store, it’s almost like a great wall of white. There’s no differentiation.”

Considering the health benefits of low-fat milk, you would think it would be able to sell itself.

Sara Kuykendall, a registered dietitian with Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Services, said nutrients in milk such as calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium and vitamin A are important for good health, especially regarding the bones and teeth.

Citing the USDA’s choosemyplate.gov, she said the recommended amount of milk for people older than 9 years old is three 8-ounce cups or the equivalent. She said a cup of milk could be replaced by 6 to 8 ounces of non-fat yogurt or 1½ to 2 ounces of non-fat or low-fat cheese.

“What I see most of all is people consuming extra calories than their bodies really need,” she said. “It’s a consequence of drinking more sodas, which have absolutely no nutritional value.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com