Animal Writes
From 22 February 2004 Issue

Dr Atkins's Heart Disease Finally Makes Big News
By Karen Dawn - [email protected]

When Dr Atkins died almost a year ago, I noted on DawnWatch that the press virtually ignored the trouble that Atkins had been having with his heart. How nice, after a week away from my computer, to come back and find that his troubles are no longer being ignored. They have been in every paper, on the front page of some, and are discussed in some national magazines.

A few months ago, at a physicians luncheon, a surgeon explained to me that Atkins's heart issues were such that he would not have lived more than a year if he had not "slipped" on the ice and hit his head. I thought it unlikely that the cause of death had been falsified: Yes, he probably died from a head injury from a fall. But it seemed obvious that either 'slipping' or 'collapsing' on the ice would lead to the same cause of death, but that a slip for a dying man would be strangely convenient, whereas a collapse, due to heart disease, would be devastating for a diet king's heirs and empire. One can easily imagine not just the loss of sales but the potential lawsuits.

I wish Dr Atkins had lived a very long life, towards the end of which, he, like the world's most famous pediatrician, Dr Spock, had come to embrace a vegan diet and recommend it to all. Since sadly, that did not happen, I am relieved for the sake of those that might follow him and for the billions of animals being consumed by his millions of followers, that the myth of his good health has finally been revealed.

The February 23 edition of Time Magazine has covered the story in an article by Joel Stein, (Health, pg 37) headed "Paging Dr. Fatkins?" The amusing title is a reference to Atkins having weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death. But medical reports suggest that he arrived at the hospital under 200 pounds, so his treatment rather than his diet caused the excessive weight. Whether or not the man was fat is really of minimal interest -- I think most people agree that the Atkins diet can "work" -- you can lose weight on it (though that may have much to do with a lower calorie intake due to severe food restrictions, even though the foods allowed are high fat). The issue is the man's health, since most people don't want to die young leaving a slender beautiful corpse.

Stein writes:
"As for the health of his heart - which is the real question for many who believe that the fat-rich Atkins diet may help shed pounds but could raise cholesterol to dangerous levels - the medical report noted that Atkins had a history of myocardial infarction (translation: heart attack), congestive heart failure and high blood pressure."

The Time Magazine article notes that Atkins's medical records have been distributed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The article gives an address for a website PCRM has set up focusing exclusively on the Atkins diet:  It is packed with information and even has a place where those whose health has been harmed by the diet are asked to register so that such information can be passed along to government and health officials.

You can read "Paging Dr. Fatkins?" on line at:,9171,1101040223-591316,00.html 

The February 23 edition of People Magazine is also carrying the Atkins story, on page 71, headed, "Did the Atkins Diet Fail Dr. Atkins?;
A report suggests the famed doctor had weight and heart problems when he died."

The Wednesday, February 11 New York Times had a particularly thorough article on the issue you might want to read. You will find it at:  It tells us that Atkins's wife had objected to an autopsy and that Atkins's body was cremated.

Though nobody wants to gloat over anybody's misfortune, the headlines due to the current controversy open up opportunities for letters to the editor in which it is perfectly appropriate to discuss the impact a plant based diet has had on your health and appearance, and perhaps mention that such diets can be better for one's conscience as well, since they are clearly better for the animals and the environment.

Time Magazine takes letters at: [email protected] 
People Magazine takes letters at: [email protected] 

And, as I mentioned, the story has been in pretty well every paper over the last week and will continue to appear. When you see it again in yours, please take the opportunity to whip off a quick (preferably sympathetic) veg-friendly letter to the editor. If you have any trouble finding the right email address for a letter to the editor, please ask me for help.

Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Shorter letters are more likely to be published.

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn 

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it at  To subscribe to DawnWatch, email [email protected] and tell me you'd like to receive alerts. If at any time you find DawnWatch is not for you, just let me know via email and I'll take you off the subscriber list immediately. If you forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts, please do so unedited, leaving DawnWatch in the title and including this tag line.)

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