Who drinks milk?

Since 1960, global milk production has nearly doubled (Speedy, 2003). The most substantial growth has occurred in developing countries; the consumption of milk per person in China has increased tenfold since 1980 (FAO, 2009). These changes in diet have had an impact on the global demand for agricultural products and will continue to do so.

Around three-quarters of the world’s population do not drink milk, but among those who do, the pattern of consumption varies widely between countries. Data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) provides figures for the consumption of milk (excluding butter) in kilograms per capita per year for over 170 countries (FAOSTAT, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As shown in Figure 1.0 the level of milk and dairy product consumption varies widely between countries. The highest levels of consumption are seen in Europe. In Finland for example, a massive 375.4kg was consumed per person in 2009, with Sweden close behind at 357.4kg, then the Netherlands (357.3.7kg), Albania (282kg), Germany (264kg) and Norway (262.6kg). Between 2002 and 2009, US consumption dropped from 264.6kg to 255.6kg and UK consumption increased from 233.3kg to 248.5kg so the gap between the two has largely been closed. The average amount of milk and dairy products consumed per person per year on a global scale is just 87.3kg (up from 79.8kg in 2002). It should be noted that while overall dairy consumption in the UK may have increased, the consumption of milk in 2009 was reduced according to the 2008/2009 National Diet and Nutrition Survey. For example, consumption for girls aged 11-18 years was 136 grams per day on average in 1997 and 107 grams per day in 2009; consumption for boys of the same age was 208 grams per day in 1997 and 172 grams per day in 2009. For adults, even larger decreases were seen, for women from 195 grams per day in 2000/2001 to 120 grams per day in 2009 and for men, from 225 grams per day to 165 grams per day (Bates et al., 2010).

The lowest levels of consumption are seen in Africa and Asia. In Liberia a mere 2.5kg was consumed per person in 2009. Other countries consuming small amounts include the Congo (3.7kg), Mozambique (4.1kg), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (4.5kg), Viet Nam (11.5kg) and Thailand (21.8kg). With levels this low, it is reasonable to assume that many people in these countries and others do not consume any milk or milk products at all.

While some European countries are consuming less (Sweden, France, Norway, Ireland, Portugal and Spain), consumption in developing countries is increasing (Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, India and China). In 2002 the amount consumed per person in China was 13.2kg, by 2009 this figured has risen to 29.8kg. Although the amount consumed per person in China is still relatively low compared to that in the West, it should be remembered that China has a population of 1.35 billion so this increase amounts to a significantly higher demand.

It could be argued that the lower level of consumption seen in some developing countries just reflects the fact that people cannot afford to buy milk products. However, in Japan for example (not a developing country), consumption is very low at only 73.9kg. Most people in the world do not drink milk; their reasons may be cultural, economic, historical or biological. For example, most of the world’s population are lactose intolerant (see Lactose intolerance). But many of us think of milk as a fundamental component of a healthy diet. Why is this? Is milk the only source of some obscure essential nutrient? Or is milk unique in that it contains all the nutrients that we require?