Robert Atkins (physician)

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Robert Atkins
Robert Coleman Atkins

(1930-10-17)October 17, 1930
DiedApril 17, 2003(2003-04-17) (aged 72)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
Cornell University
Years active1959–2003
OrganizationAtkins Nutritionals
Known forAtkins diet
Notable workDr. Atkins' Diet Revolution (1972)
Dr. Atkins' Superenergy Diet (1977)
Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution (1999)
Veronica Atkins
(m. 1986)

Robert Coleman Atkins (October 17, 1930 – April 17, 2003) was an American physician and cardiologist, best known for the Atkins Diet, which requires close control of carbohydrate consumption and emphasizes protein and fat as the primary sources of dietary calories in addition to a controlled number of carbohydrates from vegetables.

The commercial success of Atkins' diet plan led Time to name the doctor a person of the year in 2002.[1] The Atkins diet has been described as "one of the most popular fad diets in the United States".[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Atkins was born in 1930 in Columbus, Ohio, the son of Eugene and Norma (Tuckerman) Atkins. His family was Jewish.[3] At the age of 12, his family moved to Dayton, Ohio, where his father owned several restaurants. As a young teen, Atkins held various jobs, including a position selling shoes at the age of 14 and a later gig on a local radio show. He attended Fairview High School in Dayton and, in 1947, finished second among 8,500 seniors on a statewide general scholarship test.[4][5] Upon graduating from the University of Michigan in 1951, Atkins had thoughts of becoming a comedian and spent the summer as a waiter and entertainer at various resorts in the Adirondacks.[4][6]

He eventually decided to pursue medicine, however, and received a medical degree from Cornell University Medical College in 1955. Atkins completed an internship at Strong Hospital in Rochester, New York, and finished his residency in cardiology and internal medicine at hospitals affiliated with Columbia University.[7]


Atkins specialized in cardiology and complementary medicine, and went on to open a private practice on the Upper East Side of New York City in 1959. His medical practice did not go well at first, and he began to put on weight and became depressed. After doing some research, he decided to pursue a low-carbohydrate approach published by Alfred W. Pennington, based on research Pennington did during World War II at DuPont.[4] He began applying this approach in his practice, and began writing books about low-carb diets that became known as the Atkins diet, publishing his first book in 1972 and a few years later opening a complementary medicine center.[4][8] He married his wife, Veronica, when he was 56.[8]


In 2001, Atkins's coronary arteries were 30 to 40 percent blocked, according to Patrick Fratellone, his cardiologist and employee.[9]

In 2002, Atkins went into cardiac arrest, leading many of his critics to point to this episode as proof of the inherent dangers in the consumption of high levels of saturated fat associated with the Atkins diet. In numerous interviews, however, Atkins stated that his cardiac arrest was not the result of poor diet, but was rather caused by a chronic infection.[10][11][12]

On April 8, 2003, Atkins was admitted to Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain after having slipped on ice and hit his head, but fell into a coma. He died on April 17, at age 72.[13][14][4]

After his death, his widow stated that Atkins's coronary-artery disease had progressed in the final years of his life with a new blockage, a procedure to remedy the blockage, and that he was taking heart-rhythm medication.[9]

A report from the New York medical examiner's office leaked a year after his death said that Atkins had a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension, and that at the time of his death he weighed 258 pounds (117 kg).[13] According to Stuart Trager, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council (a group of physicians who work as consultants to the Atkins organization), this report contained incomplete medical records and Atkins did not have a history of heart attacks; instead, according to Trager, Atkins had cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease that was probably caused by a virus, not his diet.[15] His widow refused to allow an autopsy.[15]


The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate diet promoted by Atkins.[16][17][18]

His success inspired others to generate low-carb diets, and many companies released low-carb diets and low-carb foods.[19] After his death, the popularity of Atkins' diet waned, with other low-carb diets eroding its market share and questions being raised about its safety.[19] In 2005, Atkins Nutritionals filed for bankruptcy. It was subsequently purchased by North Castle Partners in 2007 and switched its emphasis to low-carb snacks.[19] In 2010, the company was acquired by Roark Capital Group.[20]


  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution Bantam, 1972
  • Atkins, Robert C. (1973). Dr. Atkins' diet revolution: the high calorie way to stay thin forever. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 9780553077315.
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Diet Cookbook Bantam, 1974
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' SuperEnergy Diet Bantam, 1978
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' SuperEnergy Diet Cookbook Signet, 1978
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Nutrition Breakthrough Bantam, 1981
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Health Revolution Houghton Mifflin, 1988
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution M. Evans and Company, 1992
  • Atkins, Robert C. (1996). Dr. Atkins' New carbohydrate gram counter: more than 1200 brand-name and generic foods listed with carbohydrate, protein, and fat contents (1st ed.). New York: M. Evans and Company. ISBN 0-87131-815-6.
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Quick & Easy New Diet Cookbook Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution: Nature's Answers to Drugs Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Age-Defying Diet St. Martin's Press, 2001, 2002
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution M. Evans and Company, 2002
  • Atkins, Robert C. (2003). Dr Atkins' new diet cookbook: mouthwatering meals for one of the world's most effective diets. London: Vermilion. ISBN 0-09-188946-4.* Atkins, Robert C. (2002). Dr. Atkins' new diet revolution (New ed.). New York: M. Evans. ISBN 0-06-001203-X.
  • Atkins, Robert C. (2003). Dr. Atkins' new diet revolution: the no-hunger, luxurious weight loss plan that really works! ([New] ed.). London: Vermilion. ISBN 0-09-188948-0.
  • Atkins, Robert C. (2003). Atkins for life: the complete controlled carb program for permanent weight loss and good health. New York. ISBN 1-4050-2110-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Atkins, Robert C. (2003). Dr Atkins' diet planner: Keep track of your weight loss with this unique carb companion. London: Vermilion. ISBN 0-09-189877-3.
  • Atkins, Robert C. (2003). The essential Atkins for life kit: the next level. London: Pan Macmillan. ISBN 0-330-43250-8.


  1. ^ Grossman, Lev (December 22, 2002). "Time Specials – Persons of the Year 2002". New York: Time inc. Archived from the original on November 14, 2010. Retrieved July 3, 2012.
  2. ^ Longe, Jacqueline L. (2008). The Gale Encyclopedia of Diets: A Guide to Health and Nutrition. The Gale Group. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-4144-2991-5
  3. ^ Rogak, Lisa (2005). Dr. Robert Atkins: The True Story of the Man Behind the War on Carbohydrates. Chamberlain Bros. ISBN 9781596090385.
  4. ^ a b c d e Martin, Douglas (April 18, 2003). "Dr. Robert C. Atkins, Author of Controversial but Best-Selling Diet Books, Is Dead at 72". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Stewart, D.L. (February 20, 2003). "Thin Memories: Author of controversial diet has Dayton roots, but his heart's in NYC". Dayton Daily News. p. C1.
  6. ^ Mariani, John F. (2013). "Atkins, Robert (1930-2003)". The encyclopedia of American food and drink. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9781620401613.
  7. ^ "Robert (Coleman) Atkins". Contemporary Authors Online: Gale Biography In Context. Detroit: Gale. October 30, 2003. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Leith, William (April 19, 2003). "Robert Atkins: Diet guru who grew fat on the proceeds of the carbohydrate revolution". The Guardian. London. Retrieved October 29, 2009.
  9. ^ a b Bekiempis, Victoria; Haylock, Zoe (April 11, 2019). "The Diet Martyr - Dr. Robert Atkins". New York Magazine. Retrieved June 9, 2023.
  10. ^ "Dr Robert Atkins: Apostle of protein gluttony as a passport to health, wholesomeness and the perfect figure". The Times. London. April 18, 2003. Retrieved November 30, 2017.(subscription required)
  11. ^ Hockenberry, John (February 21, 2004). "Defending Dr. Atkins". Retrieved October 4, 2014.
  12. ^ "Atkins diet author home after cardiac arrest". CNN. April 25, 2002. Archived from the original on September 9, 2010.
  13. ^ a b "Report Details Dr. Atkins's Health Problems". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 1, 2015.
  14. ^ McCool, Grant (April 18, 2003). "Low-carb diet pioneer dies at 72". The Guardian. London. Retrieved October 29, 2009.
  15. ^ a b Kleinfield, N. R. (February 11, 2004). "Just What Killed the Diet Doctor, And What Keeps the Issue Alive?". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  16. ^ Thalheimer J (2015). "Ketosis fad diet alert: skip low-carb diets; instead focus on nutrient-rich choices like whole grains, fruits and vegetables". Environmental Nutrition. 38 (9): 3.
  17. ^ Gudzune, KA; Doshi, RS; Mehta, AK; Chaudhry, ZW; Jacobs, DK; Vakil, RM; Lee, CJ; Bleich, SN; Clark, JM (April 7, 2015). "Efficacy of commercial weight-loss programs: an updated systematic review". Annals of Internal Medicine. 162 (7): 501–12. doi:10.7326/M14-2238. PMC 4446719. PMID 25844997.
  18. ^ Harper, A; Astrup, A (2004). "Can we advise our obese patients to follow the Atkins diet?". Obesity Reviews (editorial). 5 (2): 93–94. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2004.00137.x. PMID 15086862. S2CID 40176596. Despite the popularity and apparent success of the Atkins diet, documented scientific evidence in support of its use unfortunately lags behind.
  19. ^ a b c "Atkins firm seeks financial help". BBC News. August 1, 2005.
  20. ^ Bills, Steve (March 20, 2013). "Atkins delivers $118 mln dividend to Roark Capital". Reuters.

Further reading[edit]