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Milk production in the US has increased 96% since 1975, reaching an all-time high of 226.6 billion pounds — 26.4 billion gallons — in 2023. How much is that? It would take 10 hours for all of it to flow over Niagara Falls. In addition to fluid milk, the US uses milk to produce cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt, dry milk products, whey products, and condensed milk.

Despite the production increase, dairy consumption is dropping: Americans today drink 47% less milk than in 1975.

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What eating habits are affecting the dairy industry?

In 1975, the average American drank roughly 1 1/4 cups of milk per day. In 2022, that shrank to around 2/3 of a cup.

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Along with drinking less milk, people are also eating less cottage cheese and sherbet. Consumption of these has decreased the most of all dairy products. Per-person cottage cheese consumption dropped 58%, and sherbet consumption decreased 56%.

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But, per-person consumption of yogurt, cheese (other than cottage cheese), and dry whole milk, has increased faster than milk, cottage cheese, and sherbet consumption dropped. Per-person consumption of dry whole milk increased 161% since 1975. Cheese increased at a rate of 179%, and yogurt increased at 608%.

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Despite Americans’ affinity for yogurt and cheese, milk remains the most-consumed dairy product at 130 pounds per person in 2022. Cheese slots in second with 41.8 pounds eaten per person, and frozen dairy products (which includes ice cream, low-fat and nonfat ice cream, sherbet, frozen yogurt, water and juice ices, and other frozen foods) are third, at around 22.2 pounds per person.

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Why are Americans drinking less milk?

The USDA recommends consuming around 2-3 cups of dairy products per day depending on factors like “age, gender, and level of physical ability.” Around 90% of the US population does not meet the USDA recommendations. In 2022, the average American drank around 2/3 of a cup per day.

A 2021 USDA study investigated milk consumption trends from 2003 to 2018 using data about the share of people who consume milk as a standalone beverage, with cereal, or added to other beverages, like coffee or tea.

The study uncovered two statistically significant trends[1]: first, the percentage of standalone milk drinkers fell from 31% in 2009-10 to 22% in 2017-18, and second, milk-with-cereal users dropped from 23% in 2003-04 to 19% in 2017-18. The only group with no significant chance was those who add milk to other beverages.

The study also looked at what might be driving the decreases. Sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks weren’t found to compete with milk. Plant-based milks do — and their sales have increased — but this can only explain a small part of the overall decline in cow's milk consumption.

The study ultimately determined that additional research on product prices, household income, and consumer taste and preferences were needed to come to a more definitive conclusion.

Other data has shown that water — specifically bottled water — has increased as a consumer beverage preference since 2006.

Americans’ dairy habits are changing, and while milk remains the most-consumed dairy product, consumption is dropping and increases in cheese and yogurt do not offset the decrease in milk.

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Statistical significance is a term used in research studies to determine the likelihood that a relationship between two or more variables is caused by something other than random chance. When study results are statistically significant, it implies that the observed difference or association between variables is unlikely to have occurred due to random variation or chance. If a study's results are not statistically significant, it suggests that the observed difference or association could easily have occurred by chance.