When people aren’t quenching their thirst with water, they’re probably drinking something else. And what they choose can have a sizable impact on their health.
For that reason, nutrition experts closely monitor the consumption of various beverages. For instance, sugary drinks, which include sodas, are seen as a particularly poor choice. The Harvard University School of Public Health states this rather clearly on its Web site, which lists out facts about the relationship between consumption of sugary beverages and the prevalence of obesity. Fruit juices and milk, on the other hand, are more acceptable, so long as they are consumed in moderation.
Thanks to a comprehensive new study, we now have one of the most far-reaching data dives into how consumption of these different beverage groups varies around the world. The research draws from survey data of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, spanning 187 countries. And it’s pretty telling.
All in all, the average adult aged 20 and older drinks a little over half a cup, or 4.5 ounces in sugary drinks each day. Young men drink them the most, older women the least and a part of Latin America can’t get enough of them.
In the map above, notice that Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America are the only places where people average well over a cup of soda or other sweetened drinks a day. On a country level, nowhere do people like sugary drinks more than those living in Trinidad and Tobago, where people drink 2.5 servings (or 20 ounces per day) on average. The only other places where people drink more than 16 ounces per day (the equivalent of a bottle of soda) is Barbados, Suriname, Cuba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Dominican Republic, and Grenada.
The United States, meanwhile, is slightly above average (26th overall), along with Canada, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa. East Asia, is the least enamored: China has the lowest per capita intake, followed by North Korea.
As for fruit juice, we all drink a good deal less of it on average—only a smidgen more than an ounce each day (1.28 ounces to be exact). In rich countries, people drink the most; in poor countries, the least. And it’s far more popular in the western hemisphere than it is in the eastern hemisphere.
The average person in New Zealand drinks more fruit juice the average person anywhere else (nearly a cup, or 8 ounces, each day). Colombians like their juice, too—they were close a second at more than three quarters of a cup each day. Americans, who have been drinking less orange juice for nearly two decades now, like juice alright. And East Asians aren’t terribly impressed: China, once more, was among the lowest consumers in the world.
People drink about as much milk as they do sodas and other sugary fare—just over half a cup each day. It’s older people, however, who drink the creamy, cow-made liquid the most. Older women, in particular—those 60 years in age and older drink roughly 5.5 ounces of milk on average every day.
Nowhere in the world is milk as popular as it is in Sweden and Iceland, where people consumed the most milk (more than 12 ounces per day on average.) No region, however, likes milk more than Central Latin America, where people drink more than 8 ounces on average each day.
Costa Rica, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Finland, and Sri Lanka, where adults drink more than 10 ounces per day, also stand out. So do Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, and parts of Africa (look at Algeria, Botswana, and Sudan in the map above). In the United States, milk consumption is 67th in the world, at less than 6 ounces per day. China, despite a growing interest in milk, is again near the very bottom, just above North Korea and Indonesia, where people basically don’t drink milk.
One last interesting tidbit is how milk consumption varies by age in a way soda and fruit juice consumption does not. The older you get, the more milk you drink in most parts of the world. Soda and other sugary drink consumption works in the exact opposite way. And fruit juice is, for the most part, stays throughout people’s lifespans.
The results of the study will likely prove very useful. Never before has consumption data been found for 187 countries around the globe. The extent of the information can be enlightening, on both a country and regional basis. The Caribbean’s obsession with sugary drinks, for instance, which the data shows, has likely contributed to the rising percentage of its population that is obese. A 2006 report by the World Health Organization chronicled the staggering rise of obesity in the region. In March of this year, a task force was formed to help fight childhood obesity in the Caribbean.
The methodology used by the researchers, which was heavily dependent on large-scale surveys, also shows that there are viable alternatives when data is largely unavailable. “Our work also provides a robust modeling methodology by which dietary intakes can be estimated in data-sparse regions,” the researchers wrote.
The best example is the plethora of estimates throughout Africa, a region that is often underrepresented in large data dives because of how little information there exists.
This article is published in collaboration with Wonkblog. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Roberto A. Ferdman is a Reporter based in Washington, D.C.
Image: A Palestinian sells juice on a beach along the Mediterranean Sea in the northern Gaza Strip. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem