Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images Jonathan Neman
The CEO of salad chain Sweetgreen is under fire after he argued that a main driver of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic is unhealthy eating that leads to "obese and overweight people."
Jonathan Neman wrote in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday that "no vaccine nor mask will save us" from the pandemic and that the real "ROOT CAUSE" is processed foods that are "making us sick."
"78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are Obese and Overweight people," he claimed in the post, which has since been deleted. "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 said that "COVID is here to stay for the foreseeable future," and while he's vaccinated and encourages others to do the same, he wants the U.S. to "focus on overall health vs preventing infection."
"We have been quick to put in place Mask and Vaccine Mandates but zero conversation on HEALTH MANDATES," he said. "… We clearly have no problem with government overreach on how we live our lives all in the name of "health," however we are creating more problems than we are solving."
Sweetgreen did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Neman, whose company sells $10 to $15 salads, suggested taxing processed foods to discourage people from buying them.
"What if we made the food that is making us sick illegal? What if we taxed processed food and refined sugar to pay for the impact of the pandemic? What if we incentivized health?" he wrote.
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Neman's post received support and criticism in the comments, including from one person who wrote back: "Yikes, this is incredibly fat-phobic," according to Business Insider. "Have you considered how our healthcare system systematically underserves people who are considered to be in those groups?"
Before deleting the post, Neman replied that the commenter had made "some good points," and defended his intent, which he said "was meant to be a thought-starter on how we could think of health differently (instead of just sickness) and attack the root causes that are killing us beyond the one in the news every day (COVID)."
Overweight or obese people are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control have found, and a study of nearly 150,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients last year found that around 80% were overweight or obese. However, people of all sizes are susceptible to the virus, and the study authors said that vaccines and masks are two of the most effective tools in fighting the pandemic.