- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

From combined dispatches

NEW YORK — The widow of diet guru Dr. Robert Atkins 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.

The Atkins Physicians Council says the 72-year-old doctor, who weighed 258 pounds when he died in April, gained fluid weight while in the hospital and had only weighed 195 pounds weeks before, when he was admitted to the hospital after slipping on ice and hitting his head on the street.

“Critically ill patients, when sustained on fluids in the hospital, gain weight,” said Dr. Stuart Trager, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council, a group that promotes the Atkins diet. “He was grossly swollen, so much so that his family and associates barely recognized him.”

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.

The medical examiner’s report, which noted Dr. Atkins’ weight and a history of heart trouble, was obtained from New York health officials and released by a vegetarian group and by Dr. Richard Fleming of Omaha, Neb., who has long been critical of the high-fat, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet.

Neither party had a right to the material, according to medical officials. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the records Tuesday.

Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner, declined to comment on the report, which she said was erroneously released to a doctor in Nebraska who requested it and apparently gave it to the vegetarian group, Physicians for Responsible Medicine.

It was later discovered that the doctor was not “the treating physician” and should not have had access to the report. Miss Borakove said her office planned to complain to Nebraska health officials.

Dr. Atkins’ heart troubles had been previously known publicly, and the council asserted Tuesday that they were a result of cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart, which it said stemmed from a viral infection, not diet. Dr. Trager said Dr. Atkins weighed 195 pounds when he was admitted after slipping on an icy street and hitting his head.

“We need to set the record straight. This is a man who managed his weight,” Dr. Trager said. “Isn’t it time to let this man rest in peace?”

But Dr. Fleming, who advocates a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, denied any breach of ethics and said Dr. 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,” Dr. Fleming told Reuters in a telephone interview. “When you see the increase in obesity in this country, anything discussing this becomes a public health issue.”

A weight of 195 pounds is still 25 pounds overweight for a 6-foot man, according to global and U.S. standards.

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