Robert Atkins (nutritionist)

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Robert Atkins
Born Robert Coleman Atkins
(1930-10-17)October 17, 1930
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Died April 17, 2003(2003-04-17) (aged 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Alma mater University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Cornell University
Occupation Internal medicine
Years active 43
Organization Atkins Nutritionals
Known for Atkins diet
Notable work Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution (1972)
Dr. Atkins' Superenergy Diet (1977)
Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution (1999)
Spouse(s) Veronica Atkins (1986–2003)

Robert Coleman Atkins (October 17, 1930 – April 17, 2003) was an American physician and cardiologist, best known for the "Atkins Nutritional Approach", or "Atkins Diet", a popular but controversial way of eating that requires close control of carbohydrate consumption, emphasizing protein and fat as the primary sources of dietary calories in addition to a controlled number of carbohydrates from vegetables. Although the success of Atkins' diet plan, weightloss books, and lifestyle company, Atkins Nutritionals, led Time to name the doctor one of the ten most influential people in 2002,[1] his critics in the medical and fitness communities continue to criticize Atkins' approach to weight loss.

Early life[edit]

Atkins was born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of Eugene and Norma (Tuckerman) Atkins. At the age of twelve, 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.[2] 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.[3][4]

He eventually decided to pursue medicine, however, and received a medical degree at Cornell University Medical College (now known as Weill Cornell Medical College) in 1955. After completing an internship at Strong Hospital in Rochester, New York and finishing his residency in cardiology and internal medicine at hospitals affiliated with Columbia University, Dr. 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.[5] He married his wife Veronica when he was 56.[6]


During the early years of his medical practice, stress and poor eating habits led Atkins to gain a considerable amount of weight. In 1963, at a weight of 224 pounds (100 kg), he decided to go on a restrictive diet based on the research of Dr. Alfred W. Pennington, who recommended removing all starch and sugar from meals. The article exploring the study of Pennington's work, titled "A New Concept in the Treatment of Obesity", was published in the October 1963 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association by Edgar S. Gordon, Marshall Goldberg, and Grace J. Chosy, and advocated for the complete elimination of sugar from the diet and a marked increase in both fat and protein.[3] Atkins found immediate and lasting success on the plan, and began advertising its effects to his patients. While working as a medical consultant for AT&T, he even managed to help 65 patients reach their ideal weight with his low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet program.[7]

In 1965, Atkins appeared on The Tonight Show to promote his weight loss plan and the diet he recommended was subsequently published in Vogue in 1970.[8][9] The popularity of the plan with the magazine's female readership caused a surge in popularity for both Atkins and the magazine, and his dietary regimen was known for many years as simply "The Vogue Diet".[8] Atkins finally published his meal plans along with his own findings based on patient research in the book Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution in 1972.[5] The book became an instant bestseller selling in millions of copies and led Atkins to release a series of cookbooks, health guides, and diet products in the coming decades.[6]

The success of Atkins' commercial diet products also allowed the doctor to open the "Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine" in Manhattan, a holistic medicine center advocating alternative medicine practices. By the early 1990s, the center employed 87 people,[10] and reported treating more than 50,000 patients.[11] In 1998, Atkins also founded the nutrition and supplements company Atkins Nutritionals to promote his high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, and the brand grew to include not only diet-controlled carbohydrate, low-glycemic food products, but also a variety of lifestyle items that generated a revenue of over $100 million.[12][13] By this time, Atkins had revised his approach to allow for more flexibility and variety in the weight loss plan and had published Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution in 1992, which again became a bestseller selling more than 15 million copies nationwide.[3]


In his dieting approach, Atkins suggests that starchy carbohydrates are the culprit in weight gain, and through extensive research, he claimed that they cause the body to overproduce the hormone insulin, a condition called hyperinsulinism,[14] which metabolizes blood glucose and thus makes people feel hungry.[6] Many doctors and nutritionists decry this explanation as an oversimplification of the metabolic processes, however, and argue that Atkins' claims that human beings did not evolve to properly digest carbohydrate are unsubstantiated, particularly because, they claim, the human diet has relied on carbohydrates to supply energy for thousands of years, with meat and dairy consumption being only sporadic.[15] Further, they discredit Atkins' notion of "hyperinsulinism", claiming that the state he describes is better known as type 2 diabetes, a disease that is brought about by obesity and not being the root cause of it.[15]

Critics also pointed out the potential for long-term health problems associated with a diet low in fiber due to the program's restrictions on fruits and vegetables in the early weight loss stages. A balanced diet, they argued, should not require a person to supplement his/ her meals with vitamins and other supplements.[6][15] Atkins admitted that he could not fully explain the remarkable weight loss achieved by those who followed his eating plan, and he never published his conclusions in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Other nutritionists studying the effects of low-carb dieting overall suggest that the extreme weight loss might be unrelated to the restriction of carbohydrate and is instead related to the natural calorie restriction that comes with the feeling of increased satiety in a high-fat diet.[15]

In spite of criticism, however, Atkins' work has persuaded many to view obesity and weight loss in a new light, and has spurred the creation of other low-carb diets and low-carb foods as well.[16]

Cardiac arrest[edit]

Atkins suffered cardiac arrest in April 2002, 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.[12] Atkins' personal physician and cardiologist, Dr. Patrick Fratellone, confirmed this assertion, saying, "We have been treating this condition, cardiomyopathy, for almost two years. Clearly, [Atkins'] own nutritional protocols have left him, at the age of 71, with an extraordinarily healthy cardiovascular system".

Dr. Fratellone treated Dr. Atkins from 1999 until 2002, and also worked with the doctor at the Atkins Center. He says Atkins suffered from cardiomyopathy, a chronic heart weakness. But this condition, he says, was caused by a virus—not his diet: “I was his attending cardiologist at that time. And I made the statement… When we did his angiogram, I mean, the doctor who performed it, said it's pristine for someone that eats his kind of diet… Pristine, meaning these are very clean arteries. I didn't want people to think that his diet caused his heart muscle – it was definitely a documented viral infection.”[17]

According to reports on CNN at the time of Atkins' convalescence, Dr. Clyde Yancy, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a member of the American Heart Association's national board of directors reported that "despite the obvious irony, I believe there is a total disconnect between [Atkins'] cardiac arrest and the health approach he popularizes".[18]

Critics often misinterpreted this incident as a heart attack instead of an episode of cardiac arrest caused by his condition and often use the two interchangeably when citing the incident however the two are distinct problems. The American Heart Association clearly defines and shows the distinction between the two.[19]


Dr. Atkins died On April 17, 2003, at the age of 72.[8] Atkins official death certificate states the cause of death as "Blunt impact injury of head with epidural hematoma".[20] Nine days prior to his death, Atkins fell and hit his head on an icy New York pavement. At New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he was admitted on April 8, he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain but went into a coma and died from complications. He spent nine days in intensive care before dying on April 17, 2003.[21][22]

A medical report issued by the New York medical examiner's office a year after his death showed that Atkins had a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension. It also noted that he weighed 258 pounds (117 kilograms) at death, but Dr. Atkins weighed 195 pounds (88 kilograms) the day after he entered the hospital following his fall; he gained 63 pounds (29 kilograms) from fluid retention during the nine days he was in a coma before he died.[21][23]

His widow refused to allow an autopsy.[23]


Atkins' work inspired a whole new tendency in dietetics, and many companies released low-carb diets and low-carb foods.[16] After his death the popularity of Atkins' diet waned, with the other low-carb diets eroding its market share, and questions being raised about its safety.[16] In 2005, his company Atkins Nutritionals filed for bankruptcy. It was subsequently purchased by North Castle Partners in 2007 and switched its emphasis to low-carb snacks.[16] In 2010 the company was acquired by Roark Capital Group.


  • Atkins, Robert C. The Essential Atkins for Life Kit: The Next Level Pan Macmillan, 2003. ISBN 0-330-43250-8
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Diet Planner M. Evans and Company, 2003 | Vermilion, 2003. ISBN 0-09-189877-3
  • Atkins, Robert C. Atkins for Life: The Next Level New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. ISBN 1-4050-2110-1
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution New York: Avon Books, 2002. ISBN 0-06-001203-X. | Vermilion, 2003. ISBN 0-09-188948-0
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution M. Evans and Company, 2002.
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Age-Defying Diet St. Martin's Press, 2001, 2002
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution: Nature's Answers to Drugs Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Quick & Easy New Diet Cookbook Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' New Carbohydrate Gram Counter. New York: M. Evans and Company, 1996. ISBN 0-87131-815-6
  • Atkins, Robert C, Gare, Fran Dr. Atkins' New Diet Cookbook M. Evans and Company, 1994 | Vermilion, 2003. ISBN 0-09-188946-4
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution M. Evans and Company, 1992
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Health Revolution Houghton Mifflin, 1988
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Nutrition Breakthrough Bantam, 1981
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' SuperEnergy Diet Cookbook Signet, 1978
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' SuperEnergy Diet Bantam, 1978
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Diet Cookbook Bantam, 1974
  • Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution Bantam, 1972



  1. ^ Grossman, Lev (22 December 2002). "Time Specials – Persons of the Year 2002". New York: Time inc. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b c 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. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  4. ^ Mariani, John F. (2013). "Atkins, Robert (1930-2003)". The encyclopedia of American food and drink. ISBN 9781620401613. 
  5. ^ a b ""Robert C(oleman) Atkins." Contemporary Authors Online". Gale Biography In Context. Detroit: Gale. 2003. Retrieved May 5, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d Leith, William (April 19, 2003). "Robert Atkins: Diet guru who grew fat on the proceeds of the carbohydrate revolution". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  7. ^ "Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. History". Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c Martin, Douglas (18 April 2003). "Dr. Robert C. Atkins, Author of Controversial but Best-Selling Diet Books, Is Dead at 72". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ "Beauty: Vogue's Take It Off, Keep It Off Super Diet ... Devised with the Guidance of Dr. Robert Atkins". Vogue 155.10. Vogue Archive. June 1970. pp. 84–85. 
  10. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. (March 6, 1993). "The Maze of Alternative Medicine". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  11. ^ Witchel, Alex (November 27, 1996). "Refighting The Battle Of the Bulge". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  12. ^ a b "Dr Robert Atkins: Apostle of protein gluttony as a passport to health, wholesomeness and the perfect figure". The Times. London. April 18, 2003. Retrieved 2009-10-29. (subscription required)
  13. ^ Fishman, Steve (March 15, 2004). "The Diet Martyr". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  14. ^ Leith, William (February 9, 2003). "What the doctor ordered". The Observer. London. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  15. ^ a b c d Christopher Wanjek (2002), Bad Medicine: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Distance Healing to Vitamin O (illustrated ed.), John Wiley & Sons, pp. 132–135, ISBN 978-0-471-43499-3 
  16. ^ a b c d "Atkins firm seeks financial help". BBC News. August 1, 2005.
  17. ^ "Defending Dr. Atkins". Retrieved 4 October 2014. 
  18. ^ "Atkins diet author home after cardiac arrest". CNN. April 25, 2002. 
  19. ^ "Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack". American Heart Association. American Heart Association.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  20. ^ "Dr Atkins Official New York Death Certificate". The Smoking Gun. The Smoking Gun.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  21. ^ a b "Report Details Dr. Atkins's Health Problems". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2015-01-01. 
  22. ^ McCool, Grant (April 18, 2003). "Low-carb diet pioneer dies at 72". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  23. ^ a b "Just What Killed the Diet Doctor, And What Keeps the Issue Alive?". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 

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