Whole Foods CEO Says We Need Diet & Exercise Instead Of Health Care

by Julie Scagell
Dustin Finkelstein/Getty

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is coming under fire for his out-of-touch comments about health care

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is taking us to school on the health care system. A system which, according to him, we don’t actually need if we eat better and “live healthier lives.”

“I mean, honestly, we talk about health care. The best solution is not to need health care,” Mackey told Freakonomics Radio host Stephen Dubner in an episode released on Nov. 4 but widely circulating now, likely due to its absurdity. “The best solution is to change the way people eat, the way they live, the lifestyle, and diet,” he continued. “There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be healthy and have a longer health span. A bunch of drugs is not going to solve the problem.” Unless those drugs are, say, for chemotherapy.

So, eat some kale and you’ll never need medical care? Cool, cool.

Mackey continued on his rant, saying, “71% of Americans are overweight and 42.5% are obese. Clearly, we’re making bad choices in the way we eat. It’s not a sustainable path. And so, I’m calling it out.”

As a refresher, when the pandemic hit, Whole Foods employees asked for more guaranteed sick leave. Mackey encouraged them to donate sick days to each other instead. They then staged a “sick out” after not receiving adequate PPE to do their jobs safely. In late 2019, Whole Foods cut health care coverage for 1,900 part-time workers, who — according to Mackey — wouldn’t have needed it if they made themselves a protein shake and walked around the neighborhood.

It’s not the first time Mackey has taken us down this road. In 2009, he penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal along the same lines called, “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare,” advocating for less government control of health care in the United States. “This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health,” Mackey wrote. “We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health.”

Americans, Mackey said, should just make the choice to eat better. Ironically, he did not discuss the role poverty, food insecurity, or the pandemic plays in making more Americans than ever rely on food banks to eat. Even if you earn a decent living, most Americans don’t have the extra cash to drop $14 on a pack of Whole Foods blueberries or pay $47 for a build-your-own-salad.

He’s also missing the fact that very healthy people on paper still get sick and need medical care. Imagine telling Bob Harper, personal trainer and “coach” on Biggest Loser he’s screwed for having a heart attack after he’s devoted his life to fitness and health. And what about people with hereditary conditions like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia? Should we tell them that an apple a day should cure what ails them?

If Mackey believes his vegan diet and daily meditation will keep him safe and medication-free forever, I guess that’s one less hospital bed the rest of us have to fight over should something strike us that diet and exercise can’t fix.