Top 5 Takeaways On Dairy Purchase Drivers, Health Impacts & Demographic Considerations

Dairy foods and beverages are recommended as part of a healthy dietary pattern given their well-established benefits according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Still, while Americans acknowledge that dairy foods and beverages are affordable, accessible, and an essential part of a healthy diet, nearly 90% of Americans do not consume the recommended three servings per day. 

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) wanted to investigate potential dairy consumption barriers, including those that may be uniquely attributable to race, ethnicity, and/or income level—a query worth exploring as public health and food system stakeholders seek to enhance diet quality and nutrition equity for all Americans.  

Data from the IFIC Research: Understanding Fluid Milk & Dairy Food Consumption Patterns to Enhance Diet Quality & Nutrition Equity, which was presented at the IFIC Expert Webinar, Dairy Decisions: Purchase Drivers, Health Impacts & Demographic Considerations, delves deeply into dairy consumption trends and examines the perceptions, motivators, and barriers that may keep consumers from fully experiencing dairy’s benefits, including those that may be uniquely attributable to race, ethnicity, and/or income level. 

Here are the top five takeaways from this research: 

 1. Most people believe dairy is a dietary essential and contains many nutrients they are actively aiming to incorporate.  

According to this IFIC research, many consumers believe that dairy is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet. Consumers are also aware of the nutrients uniquely available in dairy foods and beverages, such as vitamin D, calcium, and protein, many of which they are actively aiming to incorporate into their diets. 

Specifically, significantly more Black people are actively trying to incorporate both vitamin D (66%) and calcium (57%) in their diets compared to Non-Hispanic White people (59% and 49%, respectively). The active incorporation of this vitamin in Black populations is interesting as research cites how Black people are most often vitamin D deficient, due to melanin levels in the skin blocking sufficient vitamin D production. Additionally, melanin levels in Asian and Latino populations have been studied to look for links between vitamin D deficiencies and related health outcomes. Health messages regarding vitamin deficiency may be reaching Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations, providing opportunities for proactive consumption of foods and beverages high in vitamin D, including dairy.  

2. While many people know that dairy promotes strong bones and teeth, many other health benefits are lesser known, including heart health and healthy blood pressure. 

Dairy benefits, such as bone and dental health are familiar to survey takers, whereas lesser-known benefits, such heart and immune health, present new promotion opportunities. These opportunities  could particularly benefit BIPOC populations that are under consuming dairy, many of whom experience racial and ethnic disparities for cardiovascular disease risks, as well as noncommunicable diseases associated with diet, such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes 

3. Many consumers cannot cite a specific reason why they do not consume dairy more often.   

When provided with several potential consumption barriers linked to taste, price, healthfulness, convenience, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability, consumers’ top reason for not consuming dairy foods and beverages, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, more often was “none of the above.” These results indicate consumers may be passively avoiding dairy.  Examination of “passive avoiders” of milk, cheese, and yogurt further by race and ethnicity shows that significantly more Non-Hispanic White people fall into this category, when compared to all others. However, each of the BIPOC populations studied followed closely behind also citing “none of the above”.  

This finding requires further insight into the daily consumption behaviors and habit patterns of all “passive avoiders” to develop new strategies for increased intake at meal and snack occasions. 

4. Many BIPOC people identify as being lactose intolerant and/or having a dairy sensitivity/allergy. Yet many people have never consumed lactose free dairy foods and beverages.

When asked about their consumption of dairy products over the last decade, 42% percent of survey takers report never consuming lactose-free milk, and 47% report never consuming lactose-free dairy products other than milk. This is worth noting given that Non-White populations suffer from lactose intolerance at disproportionately higher rates than Non-Hispanic White people. Significantly more Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander, and Black people self-reported being lactose intolerant compared with Non-Hispanic White people in this IFIC research. Additionally, Latino people reported someone in their homes as having a dairy allergy/sensitivity significantly more often than Non-Hispanic White people.

These results present an opportunity for greater access to and education regarding lactose-free dairy foods and beverages, allowing those who are lactose intolerant to still enjoy and benefit from dairy’s unique taste and health benefits. Outreach strategies should also address access, affordability, and taste associated with lactose-free dairy foods and beverages to overcome potential first-time trial barriers.

5. Many people trust doctors, healthcare professionals, and registered dietitians to provide information about dairy’s healthfulness, yet these sources are less frequently accessed. 

Eighty eight percent of consumers indicated that doctors and healthcare professionals were trustworthy when it came to sources of information on the healthfulness of dairy. Other highly trusted sources included registered dietitians and government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration or the US Department of Agriculture. In contrast, only 25% of people reported social media as trustworthy. 

The inverse was observed when asked where consumers get information regarding dairy’s healthfulness most frequently. Family and friends, social media, as well as health, food, or nutrition website or blog were selected as the most frequent information sources. While the most trusted information sources, registered dietitians or nutritionists, government agencies, as well as doctors or healthcare professionals are less frequent sources for information related to dairy’s healthfulness.   

Trusted sources, including physicians and registered dietitians, must continue to connect with patients, clients, and consumers regularly regarding healthy dietary patterns to improve health and reduce disease risk. Simple, easy, and actionable strategies to incorporate dairy, including lactose-free dairy foods and beverages, into meals and snacks, present opportunities for increased intake. Given its ubiquity, social media also presents opportunities for trusted information sources to deliver science-based messages regarding dairy’s healthfulness.