Atkins vs. the PCRM

Today, I sent an email to the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the non-profit organization that gave Dr. Atkins' death report to the Wall Street Journal. The PCRM promotes a vegan diet, so they obviously don't like the Atkins' diet, which is almost impossible to follow as a vegan.

A group called the Center for Consumer Freedom, a non-profit supported by restaurants and food companies that sell meat and junk food (and are therefore natural enemies of the PCRM), loves to issue press releases calling the PCRM a "phony" organization. It's doubtful that either group delivers the unvarnished truth, but on Tuesday the CCF issued a press release claiming that:

The late Dr. Robert Atkins is being smeared for his alleged obesity at the time of his death, by a phony doctors organization that has been exposed as a front group for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and has been censured by the American Medical Association (AMA).

The AMA has formally censured PCRM in the past, calling its recommendations "irresponsible" and "potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of Americans." The AMA has also called PCRM a "fringe organization" that uses "unethical tactics" and is "interested in perverting medical science."

Dr. Stuart Trager MD, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council … release this morning reads in part: "Due to water retention … [Atkins] had a weight that varied between 180 and 195. During his coma, as he deteriorated and his major organs failed, fluid retention and bloating dramatically distorted his body and left him at 258 pounds at the time of his death, a documented weight gain of over 60 pounds."

(Don't forget that Dr. Trager, as chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council, isn't exactly a disinterested party in this.)

I asked the PCRM to respond to the reports that Dr. Atkins actually weighed 195 pounds at the time of his accident, and that his weight gain to 258 pounds — while in a coma — was due to the major organ deterioration and fluid retention he suffered as a result of his accident. I also asked the PCRM if it had challenged or investigated these reports, because I couldn't find anything on the PCRM website about this.

Here is the PCRM's reply

Mr. Frauenfelder:

Thank you for contacting the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Jeanne McVey forwarded your note to me for a response.

This is a huge public health issue. The Atkins Nutritional Corporation and Dr. Atkins through his books have been telling millions of people that cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat don't matter. We clearly know from the medical and nutritional scientific literature that these nutrients do matter, and consuming them in increasing quantities escalates the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.

And the Atkins Nutritionals Corporation has evidently put a lot of effort into painting a picture of robust health for the late Dr. Atkins going even so far as to say that he had "an extraordinarily healthy cardiovascular system" right after his cardiac arrest in April 2001 ( Now, in her most recent statement Ms. Atkins allows as how, in addition to the cardiomyopathy that he suffered,  "Robert did have some progression of his coronary artery disease in the last three years of his life including some new blockage of a secondary artery that was remedied during this admission."

We know from the medical examiners report that Dr. Atkins weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death. We know that the examiner listed myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and hypertension on the report. All of this is simply evidence that he was not in the best of health, and especially not in excellent cardiovascular health when he died.

By the way, 195 pounds at 6 feet tall, still puts Dr. Atkins above a BMI of 25  (26.4) which is technically considered overweight for an adult male.  One might expect a famous diet doctor to boast a weight that actually puts him in a healthy weight range for his height and weight.

Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

Best regards,

Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D.

Nutrition Director

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

I checked out a BMI calculator, and Dr. Lanou is correct. 26.4 is overweight, but not by a lot. And the link to the pictures of Dr. Atkins that Cory posted a couple of months before he died show that he was quite trim.

But all in all, I feel this reply is pretty sneaky. The PCRM doesn't mention that Atkins' heart disease may have been from a virus, or that his weight gain while in a coma may have been from the fact that his body had stopped functioning properly. Instead, the PCRM hopes you'll connect the dots between Atkins' weight at death and his heart disease with his diet.

I'm sure there will be more news about Atkins/PCRM/CCF in the coming days.

Stimps sez: "A lot of what you say is true, but if you look at the background of the Center for Consumer Freedom, you see that they are hardly just a group of restaurants and food companies. =). Organic Consumers has a long list of who they [CCF] have fought against, as well as a list of who their backers and officers are… people ranging from Philip Morris people to Coca Cola people, with a look towards protecting FoxNews' advertisers. It's pretty nasty stuff.

Brian sez: "In regards to PCRM vs. CCF. I run an anti-animal rights site at and there is something you might want to add to that post about PCRM vs. CCF.

Yes, CCF takes money from the food and beverage industry, but it is open and up front about that.

On the other hand, PETA and PCRM deceptively use another nonprofit front group, The Foundation to Support Animal Protection, to hide the fact that PCRM is a front group for PETA. Basically PETA transfers large amounts of money to the FSAP which then transfers the money to PCRM — that way people looking at PCRM's tax returns don't see large donations from PETA and vice versa. That's outrageous behavior regardless of what the ideology or movement is.

That was was originally publicized not by CCF or me but by the animal rights magazine Animal People which has for years provided excellent analyses of the funding of AR groups.

Follow the link I provided for a summary of the PETA–>PCRM connection and quotes from Animal People.

PCRM regularly misinforms the public about the role of animal research in thigns like keeping premature infants alive (, so it's not surprising they're deceiving people about Dr. Atkins weight.