Sweetgreen CEO’s LinkedIn publish linking Covid deaths to weight problems has sparked backlash

Jonathan Neman, co-founder and co-CEO of sweetgreen.

David A. Grogan | CNBC

Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman wrote a LinkedIn post on Tuesday linking obesity to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The post was deleted on Wednesday, several hours after Vice posted a story about it. Even before Vice’s article, commentators on Neman’s original post called his argument “fat phobic”.

Sweetgreen filed for an IPO in confidence in June, making this an inconvenient time for controversy surrounding the company. Consumer backlash could hurt both its reputation and sales, and it could scare off investors.

Neman’s comment comes as the US battles another wave of new Covid-19 cases, causing some places to impose vaccination or masking requirements. According to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, the seven-day average of daily new US cases hit 160,455, 6% more than a week ago. Health authorities have pointed out the highly contagious Delta variant as the culprit, particularly in regions with low vaccination rates.

“78% of hospital admissions for COVID are obese and overweight people,” Neman wrote in the post. “Is there an underlying problem that we may not have paid enough attention to?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed a body mass index in the range of being overweight or obese as one of the factors that can make someone more seriously ill with Covid-19. However, some medical experts, researchers, and nutritionists say that BMI is a flawed health metric because it doesn’t take into account body fat distribution or accurately predicts the health of various races and demographics.

Neman’s statistics likely came from an article published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in March.

In his LinkedIn post, Neman also said that Covid will be here for the foreseeable future and that it is best to focus on overall health rather than just preventing infection.

“We cannot run away from it and no vaccine or mask will save us (in full disclosure, I am vaccinated and assist others in getting vaccinated),” Neman wrote.

He also called mask and vaccine mandates “state handover” and proposed the implementation of health mandates.

“What if we made the foods that make us sick illegal? What if we taxed processed foods and refined sugar to pay for the effects of the pandemic? ”He added.

Taxes on processed foods and refined sugar would likely hit low-income consumers the hardest. A sweet green salad that starts at $ 9.95 might be out of your budget range.

In response to a commenter who described the post as “fat phobic”, Neman said that was not his intention. He wrote that the post was intended to start a conversation about how we should think differently about health and tackle its root causes.

A Sweetgreen representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

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