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Doctors' Group Takes Aim at Atkins Diet

New campaign claims it can lead to assorted health problems

TUESDAY, Aug. 13, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A doctors' group called The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has launched a campaign against the Atkins diet.

Dubbed "Got a Beef with the Atkins Diet?", it includes an online registry where people can report health problems they believe were caused by the controversial weight-loss plan.

The campaign's goal is to educate the public about the array of health problems that can be caused by eating the low-carbohydrate, high-protein, meat-heavy diet, says committee president Dr. Neal Barnard.

"Many individuals are so desperate to lose weight that they turn to dangerous methods," Barnard says. "We saw it with Fen-phen, where people did lose weight but they risked serious heart disease. We've seen it with amphetamines, and absurd diets that call for 400 calories."

"Now we see it with the Atkins diet. With a high-protein diet, the weight loss actually achieved by most people falls short of dramatic news accounts, and the long-term risks are of grave concern," he adds.

However, the Atkins Center is firing back, claiming the group is a fringe organization aligned with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal-rights group.

"[The doctors' group] is an extremist vegetarian animal-rights group that has been repeatedly censured by the American Medical Association," says Michael Bernstein, senior vice president of Atkins Health and Medical Information Services in New York City. "Their agenda is neither medical nor scientific; it is political. As such, there is no reason for us to comment."

The American Medical Association (AMA) takes no stance on the Atkins diet, or any other low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. The AMA censured the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine several years ago for its campaign against biomedical research, not for the Atkins diet campaign, an AMA spokesman says.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine cites a long list of published medical studies about the health dangers of a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. Recent studies have shown such meat-laden diets could cause everything from kidney stones and osteoporosis to heart disease and colon cancer.

"The bottom line is you can lose weight by many different means. The healthiest ways to do that are going to a low-fat, high-fiber diet, and using vegetarian choices to the maximum degree," Barnard says. "The Atkins diet is precisely the opposite of that."

The Atkins diet, one of several low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets that are all the rage among the overweight, prescribes a regimen mainly of meats, dairy products and some vegetables, but very few starchy vegetables, fruit, bread or other grains.

"The diet relies on a massive carbohydrate restriction, which effectively eliminates 60 percent of the foods people eat: no bread, no rice, no pasta, no beans, no starchy vegetables such as potatoes," Barnard says. "It's very unhealthy."

The anti-Atkins campaign debuted last Monday with a banner ad on the Web site of the Journal of Family Practices.

In addition, a new Web site, AtkinsDietAlert.org, will begin collecting stories from people who believe they got sick from the diet. The group says it will then submit the reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

What To Do

For more information on low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, read this article from American Medical Association News. For information on eating a balanced diet, check this guide from Nutrition.gov. You can also check out the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine Atkins campaign by clicking here.

SOURCES: Neal Barnard, M.D., president, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, D.C.; Michael Bernstein, senior vice president, Atkins Health and Medical Information Services, New York City
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