On August 31, in a since-deleted LinkedIn post, Sweetgreen’s CEO Jonathan Neman wrote a series of statements about COVID-19 that drew the ire of critics on social media. The post opened by stating that “78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are Obese and Overweight people.” This information appears to have been taken from a CDC study released in March 2021, a year after COVID-19 reached the United States. Neman later implied that weight is perhaps the “underlying problem” of COVID patients who are hospitalized.

His statement takes the 78% out of context from the original study. While numbers appear quite straightforward, statistics tend to be misleading without correct analysis and context. Although obesity is certainly a health risk that may increase the adverse effects of COVID-19, Neman misrepresents and oversimplifies the data.

Out of context, 78% seems like a large number, but the majority of the U.S. population falls into the categories of overweight or obese. The CDC recognizes those with a Body Mass Index of over 25 to be overweight and a BMI of over 30 to be obese. According to the CDC, from 2017-2018, the “percent of adults aged 20 and over with overweight, including obesity: 73.6%.”

Neman neglects to mention that in the same CDC report it was concluded that while risk increased with higher BMIs, “the lowest risk at BMIs near the threshold between healthy weight and overweight in most instances.” The CDC also acknowledged several limitations to their study, most importantly that the data set does not reflect the risk for the entire U.S. population – it leaves out those who did not need hospitalization or whose COVID symptoms went unnoticed.

Newman went on to state that “no vaccine nor mask will save us” despite the evidence suggesting the efficacy of vaccination and masking. He implied that the “ROOT CAUSE” may be nutrition and food intake and suggested considering taxing processed and sugary foods and “incentivizing health.”

LinkedIn members immediately took to the comments section to point out the fatphobia of Neman’s post as well as his oversimplification of the COVID data. The post has since been deleted.

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