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How have Americans' drinking habits changed?

How Americans replaced soft drinks with bottled water.

Americans have a wide variety of beverage choices: more than 500, by the US Department of Agriculture’s count. What people drink changes over time, of course, but there are some constants. Imitation milk plays a large role in childhood diets, and water is more than half of beverage consumption for both teens and adults.

The chart below shows how much of these beverages people drank on an average day between 2017 and 2020, grouped into selected categories. Hover over each dot for details.

Americans mostly drink water and coffee

2017–2020 beverage consumption for all age groups

By volume, half of overall beverage consumption was water (either bottled or unbottled). The next most popular beverages were coffee (14%), soft drinks (10%), milk (7%), and tea (7%). On an average day, the average American had 119 grams of alcohol, or about 4 fluid ounces.

Beverage consumption shifts after childhood

Milk was the top drink for children 12 and younger: it made up about 29% of all their consumed beverages, compared to 5% for adults. Bottled water ranked first for teenagers.

Milk consumption decreases after childhood

2017–2020 beverage consumption by age

What has changed?

What’s behind the recent shift in Americans’ drinking habits? Bottled water. Between surveys conducted from 2005 to 2006 and surveys conducted from 2017 to 2020, reported consumption of bottled water rose 56%.

Americans shifted from consuming soft drinks to consuming bottled water

Among children, average bottled water consumption doubled.

Children are drinking more water and less milk

The rise in bottled water was offset by a decline in milk consumption, which fell by about half across all age groups. Imitation milk — including plant-based products such as soy, rice, and oat milk — is the only reason milk is still the top children’s beverage in these grouped categories. Without imitation milk, water would top the latest surveys.

Teenagers are drinking fewer soft drinks

Soft drinks ranked as the top beverage for teenagers in the 2005 and 2006 surveys. But they have fallen too. In the last 15 years, soft drinks consumption declined by about 60% for teenagers.

For adults, coffee and alcohol consumption have held steady

Milk and soft drink consumption have fallen for adults too. But coffee consumption — about 1.3 cups a day on average — and alcohol consumption changed little. The type of alcohol consumed shifted however, as beer and liquor declined by 18% and 23%, while wine rose by 16% and cocktails by 375%.

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Sources & Footnotes