Saturday, August 15, 2009

Whole Foods CEO Alienates His Customers

Whole Foods' founder and CEO John Mackey wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal this week that put him in the hot seat with a nice segment of his store's clientele:
The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare, Wall Street Journal, August 12

It left the folks at Whole Foods Market Headquarters scurrying:
Whole Foods Damage Control Begins (Now with Annotated Version), Daily Kos, August 14

By placing the onus for health squarely upon the individual, Mr. Mackey has shown he is either ignorant of, or rejects, the public health (PH) perspective. The UK Government Office for Science describes the PH perspective:
"Although personal responsibility plays a crucial part in weight gain, human biology is being overwhelmed by the effects of today’s ‘obesogenic’ environment. ... Some members of the population, including the most disadvantaged, are especially vulnerable to the conditions."

"The evidence is very clear that policies aimed solely at individuals will be inadequate and that simply increasing the number or type of small scale interventions will not be sufficient to reverse this trend."
- Tackling Obesities: Future Choices
Lots of other take-aways from his article, many embarrassing for the company. The most positive fall-out has probably been the publicity it's generated.
Thanks to cw!


Steve Parker, M.D. said...

I never dreamed the CEO of Whole Foods would make so much sense.

His comments won't hurt his business. The "victims" of the "obesigenic environment" don't shop at his store.

I do take issue with his comment that low-fat eating helps prevent or mitigate common chronic diseases to a significant degree. His recommendation for "mostly plant-based diet" will play well with his customers, however.


virginia said...

many hip, cool kids who wish they could shop there, call it "whole paycheck".

yes, personal responsibility, but sometimes $5 feeds more mouths when spent on cheap mac and cheese.

i think a wise latina would have a different opinion.

i apologize, i had non-organic GM grits for breakfast.

karl said...

Yes, it does make so much sense but to my mind only for a very specific slice of a very diverse population. He doesn't address the realities of genetic, environmental, and cultural factors that effect health and in turn health care. Not that he should, he is neither a health care economist nor health care professional, just the CEO of a prominent and successful lifestyle company that is entitled to his opinion, as are we all. Also, "mostly based diets" happen to play well with a lot of the literature out there that has looked at their effects on disease prevention and mitigation so far.

Bix said...

I don't understand why Mr. Mackey blames individuals who are born into poverty and near poverty for their malnutrition. Right now, over half of all infants and a quarter of all children in the US use WIC, our 3rd largest food assistance program. Those are only the ones that participate, not all who are eligible. For a long time the only vegetable it covered was carrots.

Why he blames individuals who lack education, who lack access, who are disabled, frail, elderly. I would understand if the eating field was more level. It's not. Malnutrition is a social ill. Obesity affects the poor disproportionately.

Certainly there are individuals who have the privilege to choose. I think Mr. Mackey speaks from a position of privilege.

Side note: I read that Mackey is now a vegan who shuns vegetable oils.

Bix said...

karl, good stuff. Makes me wonder...

When you're a CEO, how much are you expected to tow the company line in your public discourse?

Ronald said...

He is just expressing the opinions of the much maligned group, the privileged rich. Why don't you lay off that group. They have enough trouble exploiting the uneducated, poor by selling them crappy products without you pointing out their callousness and ignorance. How are they supposed to avoid the consequences of their actions if you keep pointing them out.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a contradiction between the public health perspective and personal responsibility for a healthy lifestyle.

I didn't take John Mackey's editorial, which focused on health insurance to do that either.

I guess the statement you're responding to is:
"... every American adult is responsible for his or her own health. "

I'm not here to defend Mackey, but I'm not convinced that obesity and diabetes and heart disease are outside of most people's control.

We have a free society which allows free choice by a free people. The government simply cannot impose eating choices on people. It's not constitutional. We can't ban cigarette smoking or guns. So we sure as hell can't ban the consumption of Coca Cola.

This "Public Health Perspective" leads nowhere.

Good luck with that.

Bix said...

Of course there's a public health perspective. Your health would be different if you lived in Chad, or in this country at the turn of the 20th century, or even 50 years ago, or if you were born in a tenement with no access to grocery stores. Social forces affect health.

An example of a public health measure that could help fight obesity would be to transfer subsidies from grain commodities to the growing of fruits and vegetables. Another: limit the selling of fast food in elementary schools.

It's not apparent to me that Mackey understands the limited choices of those in life circumstances other than his own. Maybe he does and just doesn't care.