Coronavirus US: Whole Foods CEO blames obesity for death rate

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The CEO of Whole Foods Market says the US is experiencing more COVID-19-related deaths because Americans are fatter than the rest of the world.

John Mackey, who co-founded the organic supermarket chain in 1980 before selling it Amazon in 2017, said it is likely the country has been hit worse by the pandemic due to the higher cases of diabetes and heart disease brought on by poor diets. 

The 67-year-old, who is a well known advocate for the organic food industry, told The New York Times on Thursday that the US has ‘moved in the wrong direction’ when it comes to changes in eating habits over the last 50 years.  

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says the US coronavirus problem is closely tied with the country's issue with obesity

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says the US coronavirus problem is closely tied with the country’s issue with obesity 

Mackey co-founded organic supermarket chain Whole Foods Market in 1980 before selling it to Amazon in 2017

Mackey co-founded organic supermarket chain Whole Foods Market in 1980 before selling it to Amazon in 2017 

‘Statistically, we definitely moved in the wrong direction. 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,’ Mackey said.  

‘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 US.’ 

Earlier this week, the US hit the grim milestone of 200,000 coronavirus deaths, with more than 7million cases. 

Health experts have said people with certain underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses can be more likely to die from the virus.  

America’s growing obesity issue has been linked to limited access to healthier or organic foods, which also tend to be more costly.

But Mackey believes the issue is not due to the lack of access or affordability, but the lack of education on healthier choices.  

‘I don’t think there’s an access problem. I think there’s a market demand problem. People have got to become wiser about their food choices. And if people want different foods, the market will provide it,’ he said.   

Mackey, an well known advocate for the organic food industry, said diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure are higher in the US because Americans are getting fatter and sicker

Mackey, an well known advocate for the organic food industry, said diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure are higher in the US because Americans are getting fatter and sicker

Mackey believes the issue is not due to the lack of access or affordability, but the lack of education on healthier choices

 Mackey believes the issue is not due to the lack of access or affordability, but the lack of education on healthier choices

‘We have not done a good job of educating people about what healthy food is.’

Mackey, a libertarian who supports a free market economy, said the organic supermarket has opened up locations in inner cities and poor areas where consumers continue to make make unhealthy choices. 

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

‘It’s like a being an alcoholic. People are just not conscious of the fact that they have food addictions and need to do anything about it.’

When asked how businesses should help address some of America’s challenges including unemployment, health care and income inequality, Mackey replied: ‘Whole Foods can’t solve all the country’s problems or all the world’s problems. 

‘What we can do is do what we do. We can sell healthy food to people,’ he added. 

‘Business could be doing a lot more in certain areas, if it was allowed to, like education and health care. Those are very highly regulated businesses. ‘

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