Sweetgreen CEO links COVID to obesity in now-deleted LinkedIn rant

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Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman deleted a LinkedIn post he made Tuesday after drawing fire on social media for insinuating that obesity plays a strong hand in the COVID epidemic.

“78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are Obese and Overweight people,” Neman wrote in the post, apparently referring to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on hospitalizations from March 2020-December 2020. “Is there an underlying problem that perhaps we have not given enough attention to? Is there another way to think about how we tackle ‘healthcare’ by addressing the root cause?” Neman goes on to detail how “we have been quick to put in place Mask and Vaccine mandates but have zero conversation around HEALTH MANDATES,” saying that we “focus on the root cause and use this pandemic as a catalyst for building a healthier future."

Screencap of Jonathan Neman's LinkedIn post
Screencap of Jonathan Neman's LinkedIn post

Neman goes on to suggest that the government tax processed food and refined sugar to “pay for the impact of the pandemic.”

Sweetgreen, a salad chain founded in 2007 that has 121 locations today, was valued at $1.8 billion after a funding round earlier in the year. Investors include tennis star Naomi Osaka, T.Rowe Price, Lone Pine Capital, and D1 Capital Partners.

While the CDC has confirmed that obesity can worsen the severity of COVID, Neman’s position of “no vaccine nor mask will save us” does him no favors –– especially since Sweetgreen filed for its IPO back in June of this year. His comments angered many people, especially those who were quick to point out that his stance would benefit his business. In an op-ed, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait points out obesity poses a modest health risk compared to going unvaccinated.

“As an anti-COVID intervention, anti-obesity measures have absolutely no advantages over vaccination, unless you count the side benefit of driving a lot of business Neman’s way,” he writes.

In a piece titled “Vaccines and Masks Will Not Save Us, But Salads Might,” Vice writer Edward Ongweso Jr. also draws attention to the shortsightedness of Neman’s argument to tax processed foods.

“Meanwhile, Neman proposes financially punishing people who eat cheap but unhealthy fast food (rather than expensive but ‘healthy’ Sweetgreen),” he writes. “It’s notable that Neman doesn’t mention, say, the reluctance to fully fund a social safety net that includes food stamps or provide free nutritious meals for the millions who regularly go without, or are forced to eat cheaper, often less healthy options.”

People also called Neman out on Twitter. Amanda Mull, a writer for The Atlantic, was quick to point out that Neman’s take excluded problems with much deeper roots (and that his beliefs were convenient for a “Salad Millionaire”). Others pointed out that Neman’s ideas equated to hatred of poor and disabled people.

Newsweek reports that Neman acknowledged some of the backlash in the comments of the post before deleting it, saying he had no intention of offending, but believes "we have work to do to make healthy food more accessible and affordable."

Yahoo reached out to Sweetgreen and Neman for comment and did not receive a response before publication.

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