The World's Favorite Drinks Revealed by 'Most Comprehensive' Global Study Ever

A team of scientists has produced one of the most comprehensive assessments of the quantities of different beverages that people drink around the world.

While beverage consumption is a key component of peoples' diet—accounting for a significant proportion of our daily nutrient and calorie intake—assessing its impact on health has been limited by a lack of comparable and standardized data on individual levels of intake, particularly in certain parts of the world and for younger ages, the researchers say.

To address this issue, a team led by Laura Lara-Castor—a doctoral student at Tufts University—looked at data from the 2015 Global Dietary Database (GDD) 2015 in order to build up a picture of beverage trends around the world.

"The Global Dietary Database 2015 provides the most comprehensive estimates of non-alcoholic beverage consumption in 185 countries of the world, and further by age, sex, education, urban/rural location and time," Lara-Castor told Newsweek.

"For sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juice and milk, these data reflect updated and expanded estimates of the 2010 GDD, while for coffee and tea these constitute the first global quantitative estimates to be ever reported—(coffee and tea estimates are not yet available.)"

"These data highlight gaps in dietary surveillance, further helping inform nutrition transitions over time, the impacts of these beverages on global health, and targeted dietary policy to improve diet and health," she said.

Currently, the GDD 2015 includes more than 1,100 surveys, representing participants from 185 countries around the world—or 97.5 percent of the global population.

The team identified national and subnational survey data on beverage intake within the GDD and then used statistical modelling methods to come up with their results.

Their findings showed significant variations in the intake of drinks consumed by different demographic groups in the countries studied, according to research presented today at Nutrition 2019, the annual meeting for the American Society for Nutrition held in Baltimore.

For example, the Latin American region had the highest intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) while Asia had the lowest. Globally, SSB consumption was higher at ages 7 to 22, and among those with lower educational status or who lived in urban areas.

Within Latin America—where homemade and commercial SSBs are widely consumed—the highest intake was in Mexico where adults, on average, drank more than 19 ounces per day—roughly equivalent to 2.5 cups. The South American nation of Suriname and the Caribbean island of Jamaica came in second and third place respectively.

On the other hand, the scientists found the lowest consumption per person of sugar-sweetened beverages, on average, in China, Indonesia and Burkina Faso.

When it came to fruit juice, the highest intakes overall were found in what the researchers called the "high-income region"—which includes nations such as Sweden, Iceland and Finland—although Colombia was the country at the top of the list, where the average adult consumed about 11 ounces or 1.4 cups per day. Fruit juice intake was lowest in China, Portugal and Japan.

Around the world, fruit juice intake was higher at older ages, higher educational status and among people living in urban areas.

Finally, milk intake was also highest in the high-income region, especially in those Scandinavian countries where dairy is a traditional part of the diet. In Sweden, for example, the average adult drank about 10 ounces per day (or 1.3 cups) of milk. The countries with the lowest milk intake were China, Togo and Sudan.

Milk intake was highest both below the age of 12 and above the age of 72, as well as among people with higher educational status and those living in urban areas.

"These novel global dietary data highlight substantial variation in beverage intake worldwide, further informing global diet surveillance, priority setting and nutrition strategies," Lara-Castor said.

However, the researchers note that the study itself contains some limitations: for example, intake data was limited for certain beverages, countries and time periods.

"In particular, more intake data were available in 2015 than in 1990, and relatively few intake data were available in most Sub-Saharan African nations," Lara-Castor said.

"[Nevertheless,] our findings represent the best available, yet still imperfect, data on global intakes of key foods," she said. "In ongoing work, we are updating our searches, data collection and modelling, to overcome each of these prior limitations."

Alexandra Pépin, a researcher from the University of Ottawa, who was not involved in the latest study said that comparing the latest results to those of previous research provides us with an interesting picture of how global intake has changed.

"A similar paper by Singh et al.—who is also listed as a co-author in this abstract—was published in 2015 presenting data from 2010," she told Newsweek.

"If we compare the results from this study with the ones presented in the abstract—data consumption from 2010 vs 2015—we can observe that over the course of five years there was a decrease in global sugar-sweetened beverages consumption (respectively, 0.58 vs 0.37 servings/day), an increase in global fruit juice intake (0.16 vs 0.19 servings/day) and a decrease in global milk intake (0.57 vs 0.39 servings/day)," she said.

This article was updated to include comments from Alexandra Pépin.

fruit juice milk coffee tea
Stock photo: What are people around the world drinking? Getty