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To the CEO of Whole Foods: Eating Healthy Does Not Replace Health Care

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, said, “I mean, honestly, we talk about health care. The best solution is not to need health care,” in an episode of Freakanomics Radio that was released November 4. He continued to say, “The best solution is to change the way people eat, the way they live, the lifestyle and diet. 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.” Now, while Mackey is correct that lifestyle choices can play a significant factor in an individual’s health, eating healthy will not replace the need for accessible healthcare.

As someone who has been diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses, my personal experience speaks to this directly. Growing up, I ate very healthy foods. In fact, my family shopped at Whole Foods regularly. I ate a lot of raw produce and minimally processed meats: and still, my health was in shambles. Now, I’m a college student, and I eat like one too. I live on fast food and pizza and exorbitant amounts of salt. In fact, I’m drinking a milkshake as I sit here typing this at 10 a.m. Still, my health is significantly better than it was when I was growing up, because it’s now being managed appropriately by my healthcare team.

Obviously association is not causation, and by no means am I saying that my health was worse because I was eating healthy; there are most certainly other reasons I struggled with my health so much during my childhood. What I am saying, however, is that healthy eating did not cure or even manage my chronic illnesses. Now, by nature of my diagnoses, there is no cure for them, but what has managed them is receiving the medical treatments I need, along with some small occasional lifestyle changes. I’m taking medications that help manage my symptoms and I have learned to allow myself time to rest when I need it instead of continuing to push myself far beyond my limits.

Suggesting that simply changing how one eats will put their health in perfect order when they have diagnosed medical challenges is not only ignorant, it also suggests that somehow the person experiencing medical challenges is responsible for their poor health, when really we know that most medical conditions are caused by factors entirely out of the individual’s control, such as adverse childhood experiences, genetic differences or exposure to infectious or chemical agents that lead to disease. Blaming people for their own illnesses is ableism and, ultimately, it’s victim blaming.

While making informed dietary choices can certainly be an important part of a healthy lifestyle, it is no replacement for accessible medical care that provides evidence-based treatments to address an individual’s medical concerns.

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