NEW YORK: It seems that even dead men must worry about their reputations.
A major salvo erupted last week in the ongoing war between vegetarians on one side and the late diet guru Robert Atkins, his popular diet, and Atkins Nutritionals on the other.
On February 10, The Wall Street Journal reported that the 6-foot Atkins weighed 258 pounds and had heart disease when he died last April at 72 from a fall. At that weight, he would have been obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's body mass index calculator.
The Journal had been given a medical examiner's report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which is described by the paper as "a group that advocates a vegetarian diet and has long been critical of the Atkins approach." That criticism stems from the diet's emphasis on meat, fish, and cheese.
In the article, Stuart Trager, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council, an advisory panel set up by the Atkins company, said the diet doctor's cardiomyopathy, a heart-muscle disease, probably resulted from a virus. Trager said his weight gain was due to fluid retention, which is not uncommon in people with that condition.
Last week, Trager blasted the paper for running the story. Atkins' allies were quick to counter suggestions that the diet, which Atkins followed, caused his heart condition or weight gain. Atkins' widow, Veronica, said the PCRM was attempting to hurt her husband's reputation.
Neal Barnard, president of the PCRM, said that the Atkins website includes extensive information about Atkins' health, including Veronica Atkins' statement last week in which she admitted her late husband had some coronary blockage. Barnard said this contradicts an earlier statement from Atkins Nutritionals that the diet guru had no coronary disease.
Barnard criticized Atkins supporters for putting out this information, "and apparently inaccurately, with the goal of keeping people on this diet by the tens of millions with assurances of safety, which really don't wash, based on Atkins' own health records."