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Atkins' widow criticizes obesity report

Doctor's widow, supporter accuse paper of distorting facts

Millions still follow Dr. Robert Atkins' low-carb, high-protein diet plan.
Millions still follow Dr. Robert Atkins' low-carb, high-protein diet plan.

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Robert Atkins
Atkins Diet

(CNN) -- The widow of Dr. Robert Atkins and the chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council criticized a newspaper report Tuesday that said the low-carb diet guru was obese at the time of his death.

They contend The Wall Street Journal distorted a New York medical examiner's report it used as the source for its information.

Atkins died in April at age 72 after slipping and falling on an icy street and suffering a severe head injury. He remained in a coma until taken off life support.

The Wall Street Journal said that the medical report listed Atkins' weight at the time of his death as 258 pounds. The 6-foot-tall Atkins would have been considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's body-mass index calculator.

The newspaper also said Atkins had a history of heart disease and heart attacks.

Dr. Stuart Trager of the Atkins Physicians Council and the widow, Veronica Atkins, lambasted the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine -- a group of doctors who oppose the Atkins diet. The Wall Street Journal article said the panel had sent the medical report to the newspaper, and Trager and Veronica Atkins accused the group of illegally obtaining it.

The committee and the newspaper both declined to comment.

Trager said the weight cited in the medical report was added between the time of Atkins' accident and his death. He said Atkins weighed less than 200 pounds at the time he was injured.

"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," the doctor said in a written statement. "How and why the Journal reported that he was obese remains the only unanswered question in this pathetic situation."

Trager said the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine should have "understood that this was not obesity."

Veronica Atkins said her "husband's medical records have been reviewed by knowledgeable doctors and his medical condition discussed with cardiac specialists."

She said her husband had developed a condition called cardiomyopathy about three years before his death and did suffer a heart attack in April 2002, which he discussed openly in interviews.

In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" in January 2003, Dr. Atkins said the heart attack may have been related to the cardiomyopathy -- a serious disease of the heart muscle.

He said his condition came from a viral infection, a common cause of cardiomyopathy. The problems were not connected to his diet, he said.

Veronica Atkins called those who gave the medical examiner's report to the newspaper "extremists."

"Let me state emphatically that I have been assured by my husband's physicians that my husband's health problems late in life were completely unrelated to his diet or any diet," she said in a statement.

Her husband's health at the time of his death "is a sad and distracting sideshow, taking time away from an intelligent debate of the known science," she said.

Questions have swirled about how the committee obtained the report on Atkins' death.

Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the chief medical examiner's office in New York, said the records were erroneously sent to Dr. Richard M. Fleming of the Fleming Heart and Health Institute in Omaha, Nebraska.

Borakove said the medical examiner's office is filing a complaint with the state of Nebraska.

She said the records would not be released to anyone else but said they indicate that Atkins died from the head injury.

Fleming has been unavailable for comment.

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