June 25 2013 06:00 AM

Despite many promotional efforts, fluid milk consumption has been on the decline since the 1940s.

Promotion efforts like the "Got Milk?" campaign and the "Fuel Up to Play 60" program are supported by dairy checkoff dollars. Farmers contribute 15 cents per 100 pounds of milk, while fluid milk processors contribute 20 cents per 100 pounds sold in consumer-type packaging to the dairy checkoff. The Federal Government also promotes dairy consumption through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the Special Milk Program.

A positive result is that dairy consumption has grown the past five decades. In 1975, per capita consumption of dairy products was 539 pounds per person. That was up to 604 pounds per person by 2011.

On the other hand, despite promotional efforts, fluid milk consumption has been on the decline since the 1940s. The current dietary recommendation is three glasses per day for individuals eight years old and up, the basis behind the American Dairy Association's "3-A-Day." Unfortunately, most people don't drink that much milk - not even close

A report released last month, titled "Why are Americans consuming less fluid milk? A look at generational differences in intake frequency," summarizes research done by the USDA Economic Research Service. A glass of milk with dinner used to be very common, but the data indicates that isn't the case right now. Instead, there has been a steep drop in fluid milk consumption over time.

Since 1970, per capita fluid milk consumption has fallen from 0.96 to 0.61 cup equivalents per day. People are actually drinking slightly more milk per occasion, but they are consuming it less frequently. Between 1977-78 and 2007-08, the share of adolescents and adults who did not drink fluid milk on a daily basis rose from 41 to 54 percent, while those that drank milk three or more times per day dropped from 13 to 4 percent. During that same time period, the share of children who did not drink milk every day rose from 12 to 24 percent, and those that drank milk three or more times per day dropped from 31 to 18 percent.

There are clear generational differences in milk consumption. Americans born in the early 1960s drink fluid milk on 1.1 less occasions per day than those born before 1930. Americans born in the early 1980s consume fluid milk on 0.3 less occasions per day than those born in the early 1960s.

Why the change? Each decade brings a wider selection of soft drinks, sports drinks, bottled water and other beverage choices, all competing for the consumers' appetite. More meals eaten away from home could be another contributing factor.

In addition, as each generation grows up less accustomed to their parents drinking milk, those habits very likely carry with them into adulthood. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, individuals "who consume milk at an early age are more likely to do so as adults."

How can the dairy industry encourage consumers, both young and old, to drink more milk? How can we be sure our healthy, high-quality dairy products are processed, packaged and priced in a way that appeals to consumers' needs and wants? This is no small task, and it will take work beyond government and checkoff programs. June Dairy Month is wrapping up, but the job promoting milk consumption has just begun.
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The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master's degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor's from University of Wisconsin-Madison.