John Mackey, (left) CEO and cofounder of Whole Foods, speaks to Cris Ross, CIO Mayo Clinic, at HIMSS22 in Orlando.

ORLANDO – The secret to living a healthier life is farily simple: eat more fruits and vegetables and less of what you shouldn’t eat, according to Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey, who spoke as the Executive Summit opening keynote at HIMSS22 in Orlando .

Cris Ross, CIO Mayo Clinic, and chairman of the Board of the eHealth Initiative, served as moderator for the session.

The link between food and health and also food as medicine is well known, but it’s hard to wean off processed food, sugar and other unhealthy food that we crave, Mackey said. Food addiction is real.

The result is an estimated 50% of Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic, Mackey said. Many Americans are overweight.

“It’s the main driver of increasing healthcare costs in America,” he said.

Mackey learned the hard way that it’s hard to sell people something they don’t want, even if it’s good for them, when he opened his first store, Safer Way in Austin, Texas. The store didn’t sell sugar, alcohol or meat. It quickly went into the red and closed.

“You have to meet the market where you find it,” Mackey said. “The truth is, only about 3% of Americans are vegans.”

In 1980, Mackey founded Whole Foods in Austin, a store known for its organic food selection and for selling products that are free from hydrogenated fats, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

In reality, he said, “We were just a bunch of hippies selling food to other hippies.”

The store became a successful chain and was bought by Amazon in 2017.

Mackey said the trick to combatting unhealthy eating habits is to create wellness communities. Whole Foods opened a health resort in Austin in 2013 that controls food intake to reset the body’s cravings and let the body heal itself, he said. Weight loss, reversal of diabetes and other healthy results are the outcome.

Mackey advises those who are not a vegan or vegetarian to eat small qualities of animal foods, but mostly whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables

“Re-educate your body,” he said.

There’s a huge entrepreneurial opportunity out there for other wellness clinics, he said.

Mackey is stepping down as CEO in September. Chief Operating Officer Jason Buechel will become Whole Foods Market’s next CEO.

He is not yet saying what his next venture will be, but gave hints about the opportunities presented by wellness options, and for a more conscious leadership.

He wrote about this business models in his 2013 book, “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business”

“It’s just about the money,” he said.

Conscious leadership creates a culture to serve others by allowing them to flourish.

Healthcare makes money, he said. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest in the world.

“I would say,” Mackey said, “the healthcare system is failing in its purpose.”

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: SMorse@himss.org

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