Key Words: Whole Foods founder blames obesity crisis on ‘ignorance,’ not food prices — ‘We’ve opened stores in poor areas’

The Whole Foods founder just said a mouthful.

John Mackey fat-shames the world in a wide-ranging New York Times interview that hit Thursday, blaming “poor decisions” — and not healthy food prices — for feeding the obesity epidemic, which in turn is making the coronavirus pandemic worse, he says.

“I don’t think there’s an access problem,” said Mackey — even though a Morgan Stanley note last year found that Whole Foods prices were 15% higher than those at a typical grocery store, driven by a 30% premium on proteins, like meat. (Hence the derisive “Whole Paycheck” moniker some shoppers have given to the upscale store specializing in organic products.) And about 2.3 million Americans live in food deserts more than one mile away from a supermarket and do not own a car, according to federal data.

“It’s less about access and more about people making poor choices, mostly due to ignorance.”

— John Mackey

Instead, Mackey said people aren’t taking personal responsibility to eat well. “We’ve opened up stores in poor areas,” he said. “It’s less about access and more about people making poor choices, mostly due to ignorance.”

He also highlighted the correlation between the obesity crisis that’s emerged over the past few decades, and the novel coronavirus pandemic that’s infected at least 31.92 million people and killed 977,357 globally.

“The whole world is getting fat, it’s just that Americans are at the leading edge of that. We’re getting fat, and we’re getting sicker,” he said. “I mean, there’s a very high correlation between obesity and Covid deaths. And one of the reasons the United States has had more of a problem with Covid is simply that the comorbidities like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, they’re just higher in the U.S.”

Preliminary research into the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has found evidence suggesting that obese individuals are more likely to catch the virus, be hospitalized for it and die from it than those who are not obese. Indeed, more than seven in 10 American adults ages 20 and up are either overweight or obese, according to the CDC, and both the U.S. COVID-19 caseload and death toll are certainly much higher than the rest of the world. But keep in mind that there are also many other factors likely at play in the spread of the virus, including adherence to social distancing guidelines, which we are still learning about.

Mackey also noted that “we’re all food addicts,” and that “Whole Foods can’t solve all the country’s problems or all the world’s problems.”

“The whole world is getting fat … We’re getting fat, and we’re getting sicker.”

— John Mackey

“People are just not conscious of the fact that they have food addictions and need to do anything about it,” he said. “People have got to become wiser about their food choices.”

Mackey also lavished praise on Amazon AMZN, +0.04%, which he credited with helping Whole Foods better weather the disruptions from pandemic shutdowns this year. The online retailer bought Whole Foods for $13.4 billion in 2017, and Mackey said that Whole Foods’s online sales have tripled since the coronavirus upended the global economy. “Could we have done that prior to Amazon? No way,” he said. “From the very first day we merged with them, they pushed us to make the changes we needed to be more effective at online delivery.”

He also said that Whole Foods has been a “good employer” for its 100,000 workers, and has tried to keep them safe during the crisis. This comes as some workers are speaking out against the company’s attendance policy during the pandemic; a point system that has actually gotten stricter since it was recently reinstated, employees told Business Insider.

Related:Whole Foods founder and CEO has fallen head over heels in love with Amazon

Mackey also discussed why he’s not in favor of a federal minimum wage. “A high, $15 minimum wage makes a lot of sense in certain cities. It doesn’t make sense in other places where the average pay is a lot lower and the average cost of living is much lower,” he said.

But he refused to weigh in on anything having to do with President Trump. “I’m not going to go there,” he said. “We are so divided in politics, whatever I say is going to upset 50% of the population. So my own personal politics, I keep to myself. I’m certainly not going to talk about President Trump.”

Check out the full interview here.


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