- The CEO of Sweetgreen apologized for controversial comments made in a Linkedin post, Vice reported.
- In the post, he linked COVID-19 hospitalization to obesity and said “no mask or vaccine will save us.”
- Neman said he regretted his choice of words but stood by the intent of the post, per Vice.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In the now-deleted Linkedin post from a week ago, Jonathan Neman said: “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 suggested “health mandates” and taxes on processed foods as solutions. “No mask and no vaccine will save us. Our best bet is to learn how best to live with it and focus on overall health vs preventing infection,” he said. The post was picked up by Vice and caused an uproar online.
Neman apologized to Sweetgreen employees at the town hall for “putting the brand at risk” and for making their “jobs harder in an already very stressful time.”
But while he said he regretted his choice of words, he stood by the post’s intent, per Motherboard.
“The words could have been said much better. It could have been said much more eloquently, but the intent was real,” he told employees at the town hall, according to Motherboard.
“You all know that this is a core part of our mission, and something we truly believe in. And we believe that food is part of that solution. Sweetgreen alone is not going to solve this. Salads alone are not going to solve this,” he said.
The 78% figure appears to be a reference to a March report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that said 78% of people who were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 had been overweight or obese. The report also found that people who were nearly or slightly overweight may be least in danger of severe complications from COVID-19.
Motherboard pointed out that more than 73% of the US population is currently considered to be overweight or obese, according to CDC data.
Insider reached out to Sweetgreen for comment but did not immediately hear back.
During the town hall Q&A, one employee who had taken offense to his comments reportedly broke down in tears, according to Motherboard.
“I’m still emotional about it. But the things that were said are offensive,” she reportedly said. Motherboard did not confirm which area this employee works in.
She said that his comments around masks had also confused some workers. “We literally had a team member Friday morning that refused to put a mask on because from the statement that they read, what they got from it was that it wasn’t important to you, so then why are we mandating it?” she said.
Motherboard reported that Neman had already apologized to staff in an email on September 1. “My intention was not to be discriminatory, or to discount the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks to combat COVID-19, which for the past 18 months has had a tremendous impact on the health and wellness of our communities,” Neman wrote, per Motherboard.