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Medical record shows atkins diet guru overweight { February 11 2004 }

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Medical Report Shows Atkins Diet Guru Overweight
Wed February 11, 2004 02:52 PM ET

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even in death, Dr. Robert Atkins, whose diet books and line of diet products have been tried by millions, is getting people excited.

His widow and the company he founded are denouncing the release of medical records that show he was overweight and suffering from heart disease when he died last April.

But a rival author defended the publication, saying Atkins had concealed a dangerous condition that could influence his millions of followers. Atkins promoted a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet that he said would cause rapid weight loss reduce the risk of heart disease.

The records, a copy of which was sent to Reuters, show Atkins weighed 258 pounds when he died, which would clearly have made the 6-foot tall medical doctor not just overweight but obese.

They also show he had a history of heart disease, including a chronic condition known as heart failure, high blood pressure and heart attack. Heart failure can cause fluid retention, but Atkins was by any measure at least 75 pounds overweight when he died at age 72.

The Atkins Physicians Council, a group of doctors paid to promote the Atkins approach, has said the diet guru gained fluid weight while in the hospital and had only weighed 195 pounds weeks before. But 195 is still 25 pounds overweight for a 6-foot man, according to global and U.S. standards.

The records were obtained from New York health officials by Dr. Richard Fleming of Omaha, Nebraska, who has debated Atkins, and by a vegetarian nutrition advocacy group.

But Fleming, who advocates a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, denied any breach of ethics and said Atkins was a fair target because he had concealed his own health while seeking to influence others.

"Anything related to the health of Dr. Atkins because he had heart problems becomes an issue," Fleming said in a telephone interview. "When you see the increase in obesity in this country, anything discussing this becomes a public health issue."


Atkins died after falling and hitting his head on a New York City street last April.

The report from the New York City Chief Medical Examiner's office does not show that a formal autopsy was done on Atkins. It gives the cause of death as "blunt impact injury of head with epidural hematoma (a swelling of the brain)."

But it also carries notes that mention Atkins had a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.

In a statement released on Monday, Atkins' widow, Veronica Atkins, said her husband had suffered from heart disease for years but said it had nothing to do with the diet he advocated.

She also said he had a "witnessed cardiac arrest" -- not a heart attack -- while in the hospital in 2002. She accused those who released the medical report of breaching medical ethics and breaking the law.

Fleming, who runs a heart clinic in Omaha and who has published his own book on heart disease called "Stop Inflammation Now," said he called the medical examiner and asked for the report, which he was sent.

"I did nothing wrong," said Fleming, who has also debated Atkins on television. He gave the report to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that advocates a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, which has attacked the Atkins approach.

Fleming, who is not a member of the group and who says he eats meat, said the high fat content of the Atkins diet could worsen heart disease not only through raised cholesterol but by inflaming the arteries.

The American Heart Association and other experts have also cautioned against the Atkins approach and advocate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber.

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