Dr. Arvind Dhople: Today’s Chickens Are Bigger, But Not Necessarily Better

By  //  November 30, 2020

chickens are the most pervasive food of our era

Americans have a big appetite for chicken, which has directly led to bigger chickens. Today’s birds are four times larger than their counterparts from the 1950s, a direct effect of selective breeding.

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – The role of the domestic chicken in society has changed dramatically.

Chicken was first domesticated from red jungle fowl in Southeast Asia around 10,500 years ago, not for eating but for the “sport” of cockfighting.

Until the advent of large-scale industrial production in the 20th century, the economic and nutritional contribution of chickens was modest.

However, chickens are now the most pervasive food of our era, the American’s favorite.

Americans Love their Chicken

Almost 40 percent of all meat sold in the United States is poultry. In fact, it’s estimated that 80 percent of the U.S. population eats chicken at least twice a week. This works out to around 31.3 billion meals a year that include chicken.

Why do we choose chicken over other meat? It’s relatively cheap and is thought to have relatively low levels of fat and high levels of protein.

However, the nutritional value of chicken has undergone a vast change in the past decades.

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21st Century Chicken: More Fat, More Calories, Less Protein

Compared to a chicken in 1940, a chicken in 2015 contains twice as much fat, a third more calories and a third less protein. These changes are thought to be largely due to an increase in intensive farming practices.

For example, chickens are fed a highly calorific feed, are selectively bred for genes that aid rapid weight gain, and are forced into cramped living conditions with little or no space to move.

Fried chicken is growing in popularity as America’s favorite fast food. Coupled with the change in the nutritional value of the meat, our proclivity for fried chicken plays a role in the national obesity crisis.

Covering chicken in batter and then deep-frying it in trans-fat increases its fat content by 70 percent. New York City has nearly 8,000 fried-chicken shops – that’s one shop for every 1,000 people. Young people are the keenest customers.

Can we expect half-pound drumsticks in 2050?

Contemporary Farming Accelerates Bird Growth By Over 50 Percent

Without intensive farming, a chicken would naturally take about 14 weeks to grow fully. Today, an intensive farmed 4.5-pound chicken is produced in just six weeks.

As we continue to breed chickens to suit customer demand, what we understand a chicken to be may change.

We can now envision a future where chickens resemble objects more than animals – a genetically modified headless, featureless, fleshy mass of meat with brain functions related only to digestion and growth.

A bird bred with the function only of reproducing specific cuts of meat may sound like a solution to a growing demand for chicken.

But, even if it were possible, could such an approach be justified from ethical, economic and nutritional standpoints? With a predicted population of 10 billion people in 2050, the world’s demand for chickens will increase. How do you think a chicken in 2050 might compare to one today?


Dr. Arvind Dhople graduated from the University of Bombay and then joined Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, first as a post-doctoral fellow and then Asst. Professor. In 1980, he joined Florida Tech as a Professor and Director of their Infectious Diseases Lab. His specialty is microbial biochemistry and he performed research in leprosy and tuberculosis. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology and has published nearly 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has also served as an advisor to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, German Leprosy Relief Association, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus at Florida Tech and a freelance writer. 

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