The Odd Story of the “Chicken Fat” Song

Have you seen the newest iPhone commercial?  The one that touts the many fitness apps you can use on your iPhone?

The featured music in the ad is a song called “Go You Chicken Fat Go” and the moment I heard it, I knew the song.

It took me a few minutes to figure out how I knew it, but then it dawned on me. They used to play the song in elementary school to encourage us to exercise!

How did this song come about?

President John F. Kennedy was committed to improving the fitness of Americans. Even before he entered the office he wrote an article entitled The Soft American in Sports Illustrated. In it,  he outlined four points as the basis of his proposed national fitness program:

  1. A “White House Committee on Health and Fitness”
  2. Direct oversight of the committee by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
  3. An annual Youth Fitness Congress to be attended by state governors
  4. The assertion that physical fitness was very much the business of the federal government.

ProgramfrontcoverjpgAs part of the effort a “National Fitness Program” was designed and promoted with much hype and fanfare. According to the JFK Presidential Library:

“Material was produced for print, radio, television, and display advertising. For broadcast alone, 650 television kits and 3,500 radio kits were sent out…. The physical fitness theme even appeared in the comics page, as seventeen major syndicated cartoonists took up the subject, including Charles Schulz of “Peanuts” fame.

robert prestonOne of the odder elements of the program came about in 1961. Meredith Willson, creator of The Music Man, wrote the song “Go You Chicken Fat Go” (otherwise known as the “The Youth Fitness Song”) and had the Music Man’s star Robert Preston sing it.

When Kennedy heard it, he ordered that the record be sent to schools around the country along with the official fitness program.

And so it became ingrained in the memories of a generation of kids going to school in the 60’s …

Childhood Obesity by the numbers

Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.

How Did We Get Here?

Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a healthy weight. Kids walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess, participated in gym class, and played for hours after school before dinner. Meals were home-cooked with reasonable portion sizes and there was always a vegetable on the plate. Eating fast food was rare and snacking between meals was an occasional treat.

Today, children experience a very different lifestyle. Walks to and from school have been replaced by car and bus rides. Gym class and after-school sports have been cut; afternoons are now spent with TV, video games, and the internet. Parents are busier than ever and families eat fewer home-cooked meals. Snacking between meals is now commonplace.

Thirty years ago, kids ate just one snack a day, whereas now they are trending toward three snacks, resulting in an additional 200 calories a day. And one in five school-age children has up to six snacks a day.

Portion sizes have also exploded- they are now two to five times bigger than they were in years past. Beverage portions have grown as well- in the mid-1970s, the average sugar-sweetened beverage was 13.6 ounces compared totoday, kids think nothing of drinking 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages at a time.

In total, we are now eating 31 percent more calories than we were forty years ago–including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners. The average American now eats fifteen more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.

Eight to 18-year old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including, TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies, and only one-third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.

With childhood obesity at an all-time high, encouraging physical fitness in children has become an increasingly important cause today. Lead by First Lady Michelle Obama, the “Let’s Move!” program is a “comprehensive initiative dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.”

For more information about the Let’s Move! program, childhood obesity and some ways to combat it, click here.

What do you think about the iPhone commercial? Do you think it was smart to use this particular song in it?


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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