Restaurant CEO slammed as ‘fat-phobic’ for claiming obesity is ‘root cause’ of COVID-19 hospitalizations

The CEO of a fast-casual restaurant chain that specializes in salads left a sour taste among some readers after addressing what he apparently considers the root causes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a now-deleted LinkedIn post, Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman wrote, in part, about stopping the spread, as it were, by incentivizing health:

“78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are Obese and Overweight people. 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, whose eateries charge about $15 for a salad, added that he has taken the jab and supports vaccinations, but insisted that “COVID is here to stay for the foreseeable future. We cannot run away from it and no vaccine nor mask will save us…Our best bet is to learn how to best live with it and focus on overall health vs preventing infection.”

Seemingly lamenting what he described as government overreach, the CEO asserted, “We have been quick to put in place mask and vaccine mandates but zero conversation on HEALTH MANDATES. All the while we have printed unlimited money to soften the blow the shutdowns have caused to our country. What if we focused on the ROOT CAUSE and used this pandemic as a catalyst for creating a healthier future??”

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Neman, among other things, floated the idea of taxing processed foods and refined sugar to pay for the vast pandemic-related impact. “What if we made the food that is making us sick illegal?,” he wondered.

With a nearly $2 billion valuation, Sweetgreen operates 1oo-plus stores in 12 states.

“Sweetgreen confidentially filed for an initial public offering in June, making this an inopportune time for controversy surrounding the company. Consumer backlash could hurt both its reputation and sales, turning off investors,” CNBC claimed.

Before hitting the delete key, the junk food foe reportedly explained that the essay “was meant to be a thought-starter on how we could think of health differently (instead of just sickness) and attack the root causes that are killing us beyond the one in the news every day (COVID).”

The cohort of all-or-nothing, one-size-fits all, vaccine hawks on social media predictably slammed the businessman for fat-shaming as well as trying to profit from the virus.

At least two things perhaps can be accurate simultaneously, however, i.e., his implication about the importance of a healthy lifestyle in strengthening the body’s immune system may be valid even if he might also be interested in maximizing revenue for his enterprise.

In a March 2021 report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted that “Obesity increases the risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness.”

“According to recent Cleveland Clinic research, the risk for these long-term COVID-19 complications may be higher for those who suffer from obesity…Results also show risk for hospital admission after the initial phase of COVID-19 was about 30% higher in people with moderate-to-severe obesity,” News4Jax reported on August 31.

Sweetgreen CEO Neman’s insinuation about diet (and presumably exercise) also garnered support online. Here is just a sample:


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