Findings

Consumption declines with age
Water
Coffee, caffeine and tea
Soft drinks
Alcoholic beverages
Milk and fruit juice
Energy intake from beverages
Comparison with the United States
Conclusion

Fluid intake, notably water, is essential for good health.1 Water plays a role in almost all body functions and is a major component of every cell, tissue and organ. It regulates temperature, transports oxygen and nutrients through the blood, helps get rid of waste, and provides a medium for biological reactions. Water is important for the digestion and absorption of food. It lubricates joints and moistens tissue in the eyes, mouth and nose.

The result of insufficient intake is dehydration, which can contribute to a number of health problems. Over the age of 65, thirst tends to diminish,2 and individuals are unlikely to drink without consciously thinking about it. Dehydration, in fact, is one of the most frequent causes of hospitalization of elderly people.

While some water comes from solid food, most of it comes from beverages, either as plain water or as part of other beverages such as coffee, tea and soft drinks.

Beverages also make up an important component of nutrition. They contribute to healthy eating by helping to meet Food Guide3 recommendations for the consumption of dairy products and vegetables and fruits. But beverages, especially those rich in added sugar such as soft drinks, may take individuals over recommended levels for calorie consumption. As well, beverages are responsible for excess intake of caffeine and alcohol.

This article is an overview of beverage consumption among Canadians aged 19 or older. Based on data from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey—Nutrition (CCHS), the analysis examines the type and quantity of beverages consumed, highlighting differences by age and sex. The information from the 2004 CCHS makes it possible to study Canadians' beverage consumption, a topic about which relatively little is known.

All nutrient information from the CCHS, and consequently, in this article, is reported in grams. A gram of water is roughly the equivalent of one millilitre of water.

Consumption declines with age

Adults' total beverage consumption drops steadily with age. In 2004, daily beverage consumption of 19- to 30-year-olds averaged 2,610 grams for men and 2,056 grams for women (Table 1). For people aged 71 or older, the figures were substantially lower, at 1,584 grams and 1,532 grams, respectively.

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Table 1
Average daily consumption (in grams) of selected beverages, by age group and gender, total household population aged 19 or older, Canada excluding territories, 2004

Water

Water (excluding water in other drinks and foods) was the beverage consumed in the greatest quantity by the greatest number of Canadian adults. The day before they were interviewed, 77% of men and 84% of women aged 19 to 30 drank water, consuming averages of 1,360 and 1,194 grams (Table 2). The proportion of women reporting that they drank water did not change at older ages, but among men, the figure fell to 65% at age 71 or older. However, for both sexes, the average amount of water consumed declined among seniors to 774 grams for men and 799 grams for women. As a result, daily water consumption for the total population aged 71 or older (both consumers and non-consumers) averaged 500 grams for men and 654 grams for women (Table 1).

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Table 2
Percentage who consumed selected beverages the previous day and their average daily consumption (in grams), by age group and gender, household population aged 19 or older, Canada excluding territories, 2004

Coffee, caffeine and tea

After water, the beverage that the largest proportion of adults reported consuming the day before they were interviewed tended to be coffee (Table 2). In fact, men older than age 50 were more likely to report having had coffee than water. The exception to the trend toward coffee was 19- to 30-year-olds, who were more likely to report having had milk the previous day. As well, the proportion of men in this age group who reported having had regular soft drinks exceeded the proportion who had coffee.       

Among those who drank coffee, consumption peaked at ages 31 to 50, averaging 639 grams for men and 586 grams for women. By age 71 or older, the average amounts were considerably lower at 489 grams and 398 grams.

Coffee accounted for almost all the caffeine that adults consumed: 80.6%. (Tea and soft drinks made up 12.3% and 5.9%.) Caffeine has a number of biological effects resulting from its diuretic and stimulant properties. For some sensitive individuals, these can include restlessness, anxiety, irritability, muscle tremors, insomnia, headaches and abnormal heart rhythms. Health Canada advises healthy adults to limit their daily caffeine intake to 400 milligrams,4, 5 the equivalent of three 8-ounce cups of coffee.

More than 20% of men and around 15% of women in the 31-to-70 age range exceeded the 400 milligram per day recommendation (Figure 1). Not surprisingly, the age and sex patterns of caffeine intake parallelled those of coffee.

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Figure 1
Percentage with usual daily caffeine intake greater than 400 milligrams, by gender and age group, household population aged 19 or older, Canada excluding territories, 2004

Contrary to the trend for most beverages, the proportion of Canadians who reported drinking tea rose steadily with advancing age. Among men, the increase was from 20% at ages 19 to 30 to 49% at age 71 or older; for women, from 30% to 56%. And unlike many other beverages, the amount of tea consumed remained relatively stable regardless of age. For example, among male tea drinkers, 19-to-30-year-olds consumed an average of 525 grams; those aged 71 or older averaged 507 grams.

Soft drinks

Adults' consumption of regular soft drinks drops sharply at older ages. While close to half of men (47%) and over a quarter of women (27%) aged 19 to 30 reported having consumed regular soft drinks the previous day, by age 71 or older, the figure was around 10% for both sexes. Also, the quantity consumed fell in successively older age groups. For instance, male soft drink consumers aged 19 to 30 averaged 649 grams, about twice the intake of those aged 71 or older (321 grams).

Relatively few adults reported drinking diet soft drinks. The highest proportion was around 10% at ages 31 to 70. However, those who had diet soft drinks tended to drink just as much as those who reported consuming regular soft drinks. For example, women aged 19 to 30 who reported consuming diet soft drinks drank an average of 534 grams; those who reported regular soft drinks drank an average of 533 grams.

Alcoholic beverages

Because alcohol consumption varies considerably depending on the occasion, it is difficult to determine a "usual" level. As well, alcohol consumption is subject to under-reporting.6 The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has established guidelines for low-risk drinking: a maximum of 14 drinks a week for men and 9 drinks a week for women, and no more than two drinks per occasion.7 While the proportions exceeding these weekly recommendations cannot be determined from the CCHS, it is possible to calculate daily alcohol intake. At ages 19 to 70, about 20% of men and 8% of women reported usually consuming more than two drinks per day (Figure 2).

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Figure 2
Percentage with usual daily alcohol intake greater than 27.2 grams (two standard drinks), by gender and age group, household population aged 19 or older, Canada excluding territories, 2004

For men, beer was, the alcoholic beverage consumed by the largest proportions and in the greatest quantities. The people most likely to consume beer were men aged 19 to 50, 26% of whom reporting drinking beer the day before they were interviewed; at age 71 or older, the proportion was 12%. The quantity of beer that male consumers reported fell from an average of 1,159 grams (more than three bottles) at ages 19 to 30 to 567 grams (just over one bottle) at age 71 or older.

Much smaller proportions of women reported drinking beer. For example, 8% of women aged 19 to 30 drank beer the previous day, averaging 704 grams. At age 71 or older, 2% of women reported beer consumption.

For both sexes, the proportion consuming wine rose from around 5% at ages 19 to 30 to approximately 16% at ages 51 to 70. However, among wine drinkers, the average amount consumed was highest at ages 19 to 30 (402 grams for men; 291 grams for women). By age 71 or older, average consumption was 198 grams for men and 178 grams for women.    

Fewer than 10% of adults reported drinking liquor or spirits the day before the interview. The average amount that they drank was around 160 grams at ages 19 to 30; by age 71 or older, the average was halved to about 75 grams.

Milk and fruit juice

Beverages help in meeting recommendations from Canada's Food Guide3 for the consumption of dairy products (for example, milk) and vegetables and fruit (for example, fruit juice).

The proportion of adults who reported drinking milk tended to rise with age, from about half of 19- to 30-year-olds to around two-thirds of seniors aged 71 or older. Nonetheless, the average amount of milk they consumed dropped with advancing age. At ages 19 to 30, amounts averaged 408 grams for men and 328 grams for women; by age 71 or older, the averages were 260 and 198 grams, respectively. As a result, overall daily milk intake by people age 71 or older (consumers and non-consumers) averaged 166 grams for men and 136 grams for women (Table 1).

For the total adult population, milk contributed approximately a half serving of dairy products to the daily diet. Adults' consumption of all dairy products, however, was relatively low, with more than two-thirds not exceeding two servings a day.15

The proportion of adults reporting fruit juice consumption varied little by age and sex—about one-third. However, similar to milk, quantities consumed dropped off sharply at older ages, from an average of 523 grams for men and 401 grams for women aged 19 to 30 to 221 grams for both sexes aged 71 or older.

For the total adult population (consumers and non-consumers), fruit juice consumption amounted to slightly more than one serving of vegetables and fruit at ages 19 to 30 and two-thirds of a serving at age 71 or older.

Around half of Canadian adults failed to meet the five daily servings of vegetables and fruit15 recommended by the 1992 Food Guide, which was in effect when the 2004 CCHS was conducted (recommended levels were raised in 20073). Even with the addition of vegetable juice, beverages generally made up less than one serving in this food group.

Energy intake from beverages

Depending on age, beverages can account for a substantial share of daily calories. Most of these calories come from regular soft drinks, alcohol, milk, fruit juice and fruit drinks.

At ages 19 to 30, beverages made up more than 20% of men's daily energy intake and about 18% of that of women (Table 3). The proportions fell with age, largely because of lower consumption of sweetened beverages (regular soft drinks and fruit drinks) and alcohol.

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Table 3
Percentage of daily calories derived from beverages, by gender and age group, household population aged 19 or older, Canada excluding territories, 2004

Comparison with the United States

According to a similar study of beverage consumption, based on 1999 to 2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data,16 young adults in the United States drank slightly less fruit juice, milk products and coffee than did their Canadian counterparts (aged 20 to 39). However, in this age range, Americans consumed more than twice the amount of soft drinks, compared with Canadians.

In fact, the pattern of greater soft drink intake in the United States applied to all age groups. Tea consumption was the only other major difference between Canada and the US, with middle-aged Canadians (aged 40 to 59) drinking less, and older ones (aged 60 or older) drinking more. The American study did not examine water and alcoholic beverages.

Conclusion

What Canadian adults drank in 2004 depended on their age and sex. However, with one exception, the top three choices in 2004 were water, coffee and milk (though not necessarily in that order). The exception was men aged 19 to 30, among whom regular soft drinks ranked third in terms of the percentage reporting consumption.

How much of each beverage was consumed also depended on age and sex, with men typically drinking more than women, and amounts generally declining at older ages.

Some beverages tended to be consumed in greater quantities than others. Men and women of all ages who drank water reported drinking more of it than did consumers of any other beverage. Coffee, tea and diet soft drinks were also consumed in relatively large quantities.

These beverage consumption patterns were reflected in caffeine intake. At ages 31 to 70, around one in five adults exceeded Health Canada guidelines for caffeine consumption.