Does John Mackey Have It Backwards With His Discount Incentive?

whole foods discount program image

John Mackey believes that skinny people live longer; he personally eats like a bird. Now he is offering a graduated "healthy discount" to employees with lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and most controversially, lower body mass index. As the Village Voice puts it, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is not amused.


Dan Winters in the New Yorker

The NAAFA notes that some studies show that skinny people actually have a greater mortality risk, and that "Whole Foods' employee discounts based on weight are
inversely related to mortality risk. So you have a policy that's not merely
discriminatory on its face, but completely irrational on its own terms." and that "if you're an underweight college student suffering from an eating disorder and working as a checker at the Boulder Whole Foods (not a hypothetical as anyone who has ever shopped there can attest) you get a 30% discount for maintaining the "healthiest" weight."

In the New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten describes Mackey's own diet:

A year ago, Mackey came across a book called "The Engine 2 Diet," by an Austin, Texas, firefighter and former professional triathlete named Rip Esselstyn. Basically, you eat plants: you are a rabbit with a skillet. Mackey had been a vegetarian for more than thirty years, and a vegan for five, but the Engine 2 book, among others, helped get him to give up vegetable oils, sugar, and pretty much anything processed. He lost fifteen pounds.

Business writer Sarah Gilbert thinks there might be a pattern here.

It's myopic, paternalistic and with a generosity of intention that belies its know-it-all spirit.

Mackey thinks he's saving his employees from themselves. In reality, he's just giving a little bonus to those who are already most like himself -- making employees in his own image a little tiny bit richer. It's not quite a God complex. But it's a nice, slim, start.

Now I happen to be married to a woman who cooks a pretty green healthy diet; she also is on strong blood pressure medication due to her genetic makeup. She goes to the gym and walks every day, but has a high BMI; some people are just made that way, or it might be the medication. I am not certain that everyone is built in John Mackey's image. Short people are reputed to not live as long as tall people; I might be next on his list.

I also think it is backwards; surely the people who need to lose a bit of weight deserve the biggest incentive, not the skinniest.

More Mackey in TreeHugger:
Whole Foods' John Mackey a Climate Change Skeptic?!? Seems So.
John Mackey Steps Down As Chairman of Whole Foods: Did He Jump or Was He Pushed?