Chicken Big Poultry and Obesity

Image Credit: Erik Viggh / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Poultry & Weight Gain

Vegetarians have considerably lower obesity rates compared to those who eat meat, but why? Is it because they’re not eating meat or because they’re eating more plants? Or maybe they’re just eating fewer calories or exercising more? A study out of the Netherlands controlled for all of that, as profiled in my video, Chicken Big: Poultry and Obesity.

Researchers effectively studied men and women who ate the same number of calories a day, ate the same amount of vegetables, fruits, grains and did the same amount of exercise, but ate different amounts of meat. Men and women who ate less than a small serving of meat a day were on average not overweight, but the more meat they ate, the heavier they were. By one and a half servings a day, they crossed the threshold of a BMI of 25 to become officially classified as overweight. 

Which type of meat was the worst? I previously profiled a study of hundreds of thousands of men and women which showed that poultry consumption appeared to be the worst (see Meat and Weight Gain in the PANACEA Study). But maybe it was reverse causation, meaning obesity leading to greater chicken consumption and not the other way around. The new study controlled for that, adjusting for dieting habits, yet found the same thing. Chicken consumption was most associated with weight gain in both men and women, and it didn’t take much. Compared to those who didn’t eat any chicken at all, those eating about 20 or more grams of chicken a day had a significantly greater increase in their body mass index. That’s around one chicken nugget, or a single chicken breast once every two weeks compared to no chicken at all.

Why poultry though? We don’t know, but here are some possible contributing factors:

Other surprising discoveries in the field include:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a Day2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

38 responses to “Poultry & Weight Gain

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  1. It’s very painful to watch but the film below shows the life of chicken raised in large farms. At 3.55 minutes the narrator says: “If a baby grew at the same pace as chicken from the meat industry, in just two months it would weigh approximately 600 lbs”. Could this not be one reason chicken makes people fat?

    1. YES. The antibiotics they pump into these poor, innocent animals to make them grow too big, too fast, is in direct relation to the humans that choose to eat them; and get fat and sick. Inhumane treatment, chemicals/drugs and GMOs in their feed, antibiotic resistance in humans, sick, fat …. it’s a vicious circle for all. EXCEPT Big Ag companies, BIG Pharma and Monsanto; who make a nice profit in the process.

    1. Yeah. Why can’t he let them make their money in peace without mentioning inconvenient facts? I mean, all they do is slaughter hundreds of millions of living creatures annually and damage the health of many millions of human beings.
      It is not like they are actually doing anything bad.

      1. I just had to laugh because I put myself in the shoes of someone who gains (monetarily) from the poultry industry and imagined what I would be thinking about Greger’s relentless do-good-ery.

        1. Yes but unfortunately the US Chicken Council, the US Poultry and Egg Association and the Animal Agriculture Alliance have much deeper pockets than Dr G and can pay to get their message out. Then there is also the advertising for KFC, chicken nuggets etc Sadly, I do not think that KFC will be going out of business any time soon.

          1. No one would’ve thought the titan, McDonald’s, would be closing hundreds of stores in 2016, but they are–and it all started with words (concerns over GMOs, etc.,).

            Greger’s words (even if they are not always Greger’s–he reports others’ findings)–e.g., the ones in his New York Times best-seller–are tiny seeds but they are going to bring about enormous results. I believe industry understands this reality (otherwise they would not have bothered obfuscating the truth)–and that some involved are capable of seeing that the handwriting is on the wall for their way of doing things.

            1. Is it possible that the medical industry like you just wrote “OBFUSCATES” the truth about laetrile, amygdalin, and apricot kernals since these non-patentable therapies compete with the medical establishment. Or is it just a conspiracy theory to think that these monetary giants such as Big Pharma, and Sloan Kettering would ever cover up anything, because they are only after “true science”.

          2. It would not surprise me that the meat industry also helps to fund the paleo diet movement by donating to authors, speakers, publishing companies, videographers, and other people involved in mass communication.

  2. Although I will not take the time to cite any study’s, there is evidence that plants not only can communicate with each other, but that they have the potential to have just as much feeling and emotion…as a cow…pig…or chicken.

    Since the beginning of time all living things have consumed other living things to survive.

    Bloody Plant Kiilers the lot of ya…!

      1. Tom Goff: Nice link. It’s bizarre to me that anyone has to write out the obvious bullet points like that, but there are enough people making the above argument that it is apparently necessary. Thank you for finding that link as I suspect it will be helpful in the future.
        I don’t believe that most people really believe this argument. If they did, it would mean believing that there is no ethical difference between skinning a dog alive (as happens today in some countries) and as the dog screams (while it still lives), their kid is pealing a potato next to them in good, wholesome family activity. Those two acts are ethically the same? This seems a reasonable scene? Or that boiling a chicken alive (as happens commonly today in America) is the same as boiling a carrot. Those two acts are ethically the same? Does anyone *really* believe that? *Etc.*
        If someone does not really believe the argument, then their post should be deleted as the person would just be acting as a troll. But I think that some people may really be OK torturing animals that way and see no difference between torturing animals and consuming plants.
        More likely, people who make these arguments are not psychopaths but are really just not thinking it through. So, the biggest reason I’m hesitant to delete such posts is because of replies like yours. There are people who intuitively understand the absurdity of such an argument, but don’t know how to put the answer into words. When faced with such an argument, that article on facebook can help. And there may people who initially believe such arguments who are open to logic. So, seeing a reply like yours might even be helpful for dealing with the kind of person who thinks this argument makes sense.
        Even so, this is one of those topics that is not an easy decision for me.

        1. Thea, torturing animals and eating plants are not parallel issues.
          Eating spinach and eating shrimp are parallel, because neither one wants you to eat them, and neither is being tortured. Torturing plants and torturing animals would be another parallel issue.
          John S

          1. John: They are parallel enough, because for the vast majority of the animals involved, eating them involves torture. You can research about the lives of animals raised for food (including diary and eggs) on various sites. But even if you want to separate out the issues, my points still stand.
            For example, for your other thought, spinach does not “want” anything, not the way a sentient creature wants to live. That’s the point. Spinach does not have feelings, and it does not have thoughts. Spinach is a leaf. I refer you to Tom’s link for further information:

            1. Not all meat comes from feed lots. Most feed lots aren’t even torturing the animals. They are neglecting them. What they do is horrible for all of us and the animals, but it’s not torture. Spinach wants to grow and make more seed. Your belief that spinach doesn’t have feelings or consciousness is your belief and is really hard to prove. Many would disagree with that.

              1. So, you honestly believe the following two acts are morally equivalent? : Cutting up spinach and cutting up a live dog. It’s the same act.
                As for our “food” animals not being tortured, I think you need to do more research. Or maybe you and I have a different definition of torture.
                But that’s really beside the point. The point is whether or not plants are sentient in the way that animals are sentient. It’s really easy to prove that animals are sentient. It’s really hard, as you say, to prove that plants are and there are lots of reasons to believe that plants are not sentient. For an example, see the article that Tom found. If you agree that there is a significant difference in sentience, then it is not correct to say that eating plants is ethically equivalent to eating animals.

                1. Thea,
                  I know you are a moderator, but I think you aren’t being very moderate right now. How many people do you know who cut up live dogs? Did you even think about this question before asking it? Are you trying to look like the stereotype of a militant vegan? Do you know why people don’t like militant vegans? Are you just trying to punish me for asking the question?

                  I think that eating shrimp and eating spinach are roughly morally equivalent, yes. I don’t know anyone who eats dogs, let alone chop them up while alive. Are you aware of any ranches in the US that produce food by chopping up live dogs? Why don’t you report them?

                  1. John: I’m sorry you took it that way. You didn’t ask a question as near as I can tell. You jumped into a conversation and posted an opinion (which is fine). I could have ignored it, but chose to engage you, thinking you might see the logic. I asked an honest question in response to your post by taking your point and taking it to the logical conclusion. (FYI: They really do cut up live dogs and eat them in some countries from what I’ve read. They really do boil chickens alive in the US. They really do cut the beaks off of live baby chickens. *Etc.* And it’s all legal and/or authorities look the other way. So, nothing can be reported.)
                    But that’s not the point I’m making. I’ll try one more time: If you believe that spinach can think and has emotions as claimed by the above poster, then there would be no ethical difference in how you treat plants vs animals. But when you cut spinach off a plant, it is 100% different ethically than cutting a live animal. I think you agree with that. ??? So, ask yourself *why* it is different. That’s the key. *Why* is it different to cut a plant vs an animal? Then take it to the logical conclusion regarding eating them. That’s all I’m saying.
                    Also note that as Tom’s article points out, if someone really does think that plants are fully thinking and feeling beings, capable of pain and fear, then that person would still be vegan, because humans kill more plants to raise animals than to just eat the plants. At least that’s true for many of our “food” animals.
                    I’m sorry you didn’t understand the point of my question above and took offense. The point was not to be ridiculous. My post was about trying to explain the logic as clearly as possible in the space available in a post. Maybe I should have taken the time to do a longer post and explain more. I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.

                    1. Hi Thea,
                      I was posing your question in a different way-is it parallel to eat spinach and torture a live animal? I don’t think it is. You as a moderator were asking a question that seemed absurd, and I answered it. You can report people cutting up live dogs and eating them. A pro football quarterback was fined, booted and I think went to prison for betting on dogs. As powerful as he was, he was still reported and stopped. I don’t think it is 100% ethically different to eat spinach than eating meat. I think there are gradations in each case. A fruit tree wants you to eat the fruit and spread the seed elsewhere. What if you throw the seed in the garbage? not as good. Spinach leaves being cut hurts that plant more than a fruit from a tree. Eating the mushroom doesn’t help it as much as spreading the spores, but if you do, that’s what it wants. Some people eat the mycelium medicinally, which is the being. That’s worse for the fungus. Some eat milk products and eggs. Some people hunt deer in an area where they are overpopulated and will die a slower, more painful death than being shot and eaten. Many people say grace when they eat because they believe that all of us are spiritually connected and one day we will take our turn to be food for others. They are all gradations.

                    2. John: Here is a quote from the original poster: “…there is evidence that plants not only can communicate with each other, but that they have the potential to have just as much feeling and emotion…as a cow…pig…or chicken. … Bloody Plant Kiilers the lot of ya…!”
                      *If* that poster (militant carnist?) honestly believed that statement, then my original question/post is a perfect parallel. That was my point. My questions/examples are not a parallel only if you understand the difference between plants and animals.
                      Put a slightly different way: My question is the logical consequence of believing cows=spinach in feelings and emotions. If that poster believes that spinach is a feeling and emotional being equivalent to a cow or a pig, then that poster believes that spinach can be tortured. Or that the same act done to spinach is no different than doing it to an animal. Thus my examples are perfectly parallel examples. If you look at all my posts, I think you will see that I am only trying to point out the logical conclusion of the original poster’s thought. And I’m only having this conversation with you because you wanted to dialog with me.
                      I agree it is absurd to think that stabbing spinach with a fork is the same as stabbing a cow. I brought it up as a question, because that was the absurd proposition being put forth by others, not me. (I was avoiding using the word absurd. Since you brought it up, I think it is OK for me to use.) I was trying to frame the original claim in a way that would shed light on just why the original poster’s position is so absurd. For even more light on the subject, you could read the article that Tom found for us.
                      From this latest post, I gather what you really want is to have a more nuanced argument. That discussion would be interesting and potentially fun if we could do that face to face or in a different forum. I think you are sincere in your beliefs (note I’m not calling you any names) and ultimately our positions may not be too different if we continued to talk and share information. However, I imagine we are driving people nuts on this page already, so I’m not going any further. Believe it or not, I jumped in originally to try to head off this very discussion you and I are having. ([sigh] Once you replied, I wanted to give you the courtesy of an answer. And on it went from there. It’s hard sometimes to know when to stop. I think I’ve got it now. :-) )

                    3. Hi Thea,
                      Thanks for making an interesting and intelligent discussion out of something that could have been so negative. Your last post is what I think of as highly skilled moderation. I will catch you later. Nice work.

      2. I believe plants definitely have forms of consciousness – as does actually everything in the universe – but also many of them want us to eat them – e.g. fruit and nut trees are extremely happy to give their fruit out, in fact that’s how their species survive! And in any case there are spectrums (or sprectra?) of sentience and of connection. Would LG King find it OK to eat a human baby, even if it was killed in a car accident, so that he wouldn’t even need to murder the baby? If not, why not?

  3. Better to take health and organic is best to our health – we can fine in the marketing 100 of organic stores like terra greens organic

    1. I wonder, terragreens, if you would rewrite your post. As it now stands, I—perhaps others as well?—find it incomprehensible. Thank you in advance for your revision. (And if, not just btw, you cannot rewrite it with an eye toward comprehensibility, perhaps you’d consider deleting it. Thanks again!)

  4. I’m wondering what kind of chicken. Chicken that is humanely pasteured and fed high quality diet is not the same chicken that lives in a small cage with feces, bad diet, and designed to have such big breasts it can not walk.

  5. Perhaps there is a small typo. In the final sentence, shouldn’t it be “one chicken nugget PER DAY, or …”. Yep, you should have hired me to be your fact checker after all!

  6. Question for Dr. Greger?
    Re: Poultry& Weight Gain
    I’d like to know if eating organic pastured chicken could make a difference since they are not raised on corn and they are not injected with hormones.

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