Chicken, fish consumption still on the upswing

Americans Eating More Chicken, Fish
Working moms, microwavable food, health worries are driving the trend
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Medical News Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
on Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Chik-Fil-A cows, Americans are heeding your pleas: We're eating more chicken. We are also eating more fish, and far less beef and pork.

A new study analyzes 30 years of U.S. eating habits -- and shows that, from 1970 to 1999, total meat consumption has increased by 9%, however the composition of meat consumption has changed. Poultry had a huge increase, fish increased slightly, but beef and pork lagged behind, according to researchers' analysis of USDA statistics.

"Chicken and fish have made some pretty strong inroads," says senior researcher Ken Foster, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, in a news release. "Perhaps some of that increase is in response to issues of health and changing family dynamics."

It wasn't always that way. Before the mid-1980s, beef and pork were No. 1 and No. 2 in per capita consumption among the four meat groups. By the late 1980s, consumers passed over pork in favor of chicken. As the 20th century ended, poultry consumers nearly tied with beef eaters. Fish trailed a distant fourth, but made steady gains during the 30-year period, says Foster.

Changes in the American diet -- and more working women -- were the primary forces behind the poultry and fish gains, he explains. With no adult home with the kids, children microwave their own food.

"Because the fish and poultry marketers have been more successful in making their products microwavable, those two products tend to benefit, relative to pork and beef," he adds.

The specific numbers:

  • Poultry consumption nearly doubled, to about 67 pounds per person.
  • Fish demand increased one-third, to about 15 pounds per person.
  • Beef eating fell from nearly 95 pounds in 1976 to just under 70 pounds in 1999.
  • Pork consumption dropped from just over 60 pounds in 1971 to between 50 and 55 pounds from 1982 to 1999.
The same patterns are reflected in restaurant menus, Foster notes. While beef remains a common choice, Americans are increasingly choosing what they believe are leaner, healthier options.

"Years ago, it was hamburgers at the fast-food joint," he says. "Now it's a choice between a hamburger, a fish sandwich, a chicken salad, a chicken sandwich -- those sorts of things. So while a lot of ground beef is consumed through fast food or eating away from home, there have been increases in the consumption of poultry and fish."

As for pork, "you just don't see much pork on those menus," says Foster.

SOURCES: Foster, K. "The Impact of Health Information and Demographic Changes on Aggregate Meat Demand." News release, Purdue University.

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