Was I right or wrong in quoting the Associated Press article? I will let you decide for yourself after you have read the transcript of a recent interview between Dr. McDougal, a medical doctor, and Dr. Fred Pescatore, a former Atkins medical director.
In the following interview, I find it very interesting how concise and scientific Dr. McDougal's responses were, while the Atkins representative could not get past the exposure of Dr. Atkins personal medical records issue. Also, note that Dr. Pescatore acknowledges that new scientific findings have shown flaws in the Atkins' Diet.
NORVILLE: The incredibly popular Atkins' Diet is under fire again. Dr. Robert Atkins died last year after a fall. And this week, his personal medical records, indicating he was overweight and had heart disease, showed up in the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times." The New York City medical examiner's office says it accidentally released the records, showing Dr. Atkins weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death. The Atkins group has fired back, saying that Atkins gained more than 60 pounds after the fall last year from I.V. fluids and organ failure just before he died. They also say that his heart disease was viral and had nothing to do with his diet. That medical examiner's report was released to the press by a California-based physician's group long opposed to the Atkins' Diet.
Tonight from San Francisco, Dr. John McDougal with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the group that released Atkins' records, is with us. And here in New York with me is Dr. Fred Pescatore, a former Atkins medical director. Dr. McDougal, I'm going to start with you first. Obviously, you wouldn't have released these records if you didn't think it had a story to tell. What's the story?
JOHN MCDOUGAL, PHYSICIANS COMMITTEE FOR RESPONSIBLE MEDICINE: Well, Atkins is a public figure. I mean, if you're going to follow his diet, you want to know not only will it cause you to lose weight, but also will it cause you good health. And what better way to tell than the person who preaches the message? And for many years -- we're not talking about just the past few days of his life, but for many years, in fact all the time that I knew this man, he was overweight. And people who observed him in person, on television, in pictures, had the same observation.
The man was overweight. I mean, even the mayor of New York commented that Atkins was overweight. I would estimate he was 40 to 60 pounds overweight. And then comes the finding that he almost died in April of 2002 from a cardiac arrest. Now, of course, when you think of a cardiac arrest, you immediately think about diet. Well, for most people the kind of cardiac problems he had are due to diet. He had cardiomyopathy, which is due to disease of the small
vessels of the heart. Plus the kind of diet that he follows actually raises an irritating kind of fat in the blood called free fatty acids. And a study done on his diet back in 1980, in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association," the free fatty acids doubled, and they increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmia, which causes cardiac arrest, which is exactly what the man suffered from
in April of 2002.
NORVILLE: I want to get into this. . .
MCDOUGAL: It's part of public note.
NORVILLE: . . . the specifics of the diet. But I have to say when I saw the headline in the paper, my first reaction was, oh my goodness, how did this man's personal medical information get out there. Celebrity or not, I think individuals, whether they're famous or regular private people, have a right to expect that their medical records are not going to be put in the newspaper. How can you, as the member of a group that says it practices responsible medicine, think that that's possibly responsible?
MCDOUGAL: Because my obligation is to patients. For example, if your dad was following the Atkins' Diet, and he had a heart attack and died. And you found out that I knew that this diet might have contributed to Atkins being overweight for most of his adult life, might have contributed to his heart disease. And I didn't tell you, and your dad died, what kind of a responsible doctor would I be that I wouldn't share important information about possible detrimental effects of this diet? No, my responsibility is to the patient, to every individual person out there, who is following a diet, following a guru. And I think you need to look at the gurus and make a judgment. And this information is out there in the public domain now. And I'm sorry . . .
NORVILLE: Let me bring Dr. Pescatore into this. Doctor McDougal is saying it's for the greater good. Reveal one man's information for the greater good. First of all, you knew Dr. Atkins and you do believe that the explanation that it was a viral condition is the accurate one. Why are you so sure? You haven't seen an autopsy report, because no autopsy was done.
FRED PESCATORE, FORMER ATKINS [MEDICAL] DIRECTOR: No, but I worked with Dr. Atkins for five years and I've known the man for 10 now. So I know what his prior and preexisting medical conditions were. And when you look at the greater good here, the greater good is to evaluate things in scientific ways. This is not a scientific way of revealing anything, just because one man happened to die of whatever he happened to die of. And I think it was-has nothing to do with his diet, is not the way to settle a debate. It's not the way to tell the public, you should not be eating because of this. You can make the same ridiculous argument by just saying OK, there's how many millions, 10 million Americans currently, probably more, following a low
carbohydrate diet. They're not dying, so therefore it must be healthy. That's not a good argument either, but neither is the one that Dr. McDougal just brought up.
NORVILLE: But coming, as this does, just a couple of weeks on the heels of the Atkins pharmaceutical company saying, "For many years people have been getting our message wrong.
We never said pile on the steak, pile on the bacon. We didn't say eat all fat all the time." They did modify what they were presenting as what the Atkins' Diet was. It seems like more evidence, gee, maybe we do need to look at this again, says some consumer out there hearing about the story.
PESCATORE: But really, what is happening is that the science is advancing. We know more about fats. We know the difference between saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats. When Bob Atkins first wrote those books, we didn't really have that information. We didn't have that scientific knowledge. So as the scientific knowledge is advancing, Atkins Nutritionals is trying to advance along with that.
NORVILLE: Well, let me say what Mrs. Atkins, Veronica Atkins, said when she reacted to the release of this information. She said, quote, "I am sure that any one of you would be offended and perhaps even horrified to have complete strangers intrude into your personal family matters, especially with regard to something as intimate as your medical records or those of your loved ones." Dr. McDougal, I wonder if, in trying to achieve your goal of getting people to truly examine the detail of the Atkins' plan, you may not have shot yourself in the foot because of the nature of the way that you went about this.
MCDOUGAL: I don't think so. I think its really directed attention on what attention should be directed upon, and that is the health issues of this kind of diet. No question the Atkins' Diet causes people to lose weight. In fact, I often questioned whether Dr. Atkins was on his own diet, because of the fact that all the time I knew him he was obviously overweight. The scientific evidence clearly shows that these high [protein] diets are damaging to health. We have the Heart Association report that the nutrition committee came out and said that this diet will increase your risk of dying of heart disease, damage your bones, your kidneys. The weight loss is temporary at best. But I think the consumer does not have to just look at the scientific information. Look around the world. What you see-now just a minute, think about this picture-what you see around the world where people live on high carbohydrate diets, they are trim for a lifetime. They avoid heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer...
NORVILLE: Dr. Pescatore is about to have a cow here. Let him jump in.
PESCATORE: When you look at people around the world who eat high carbohydrate diets, look at what happened to America. In the past 30 years, one-over one in two adults are overweight and one in three children are overweight. That's what happens when people eat high carbohydrate diets.
NORVILLE: But wait . . .
PESCATORE: That's what's happening about the world right now.
NORVILLE: Isn't there a profit motive to Atkins Pharmaceuticals? I mean . . .
PESCATORE: There's a profit motive for everybody.
NORVILLE: Yes, but there's a profit motive for you to stand here-and you're not even with the company anymore-but for the Atkins firm to say this is a good diet. We stand behind it despite what the American Heart Association and the surgeon general may have said because we sell books. We now sell food products. There's a reason for Atkins to stand up and be very distressed about this report, beyond the privacy issue.
PESCATORE: Well, I don't think you can get away from this privacy issue, because that's really what it comes down to, is that it was unethical for someone to release private medical information to the "Wall Street Journal." Absolutely unethical. We've got laws called HPPA that every doctor in this country has to follow and I don't see why the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine doesn't feel they have to follow the law.
NORVILLE: And let me go to you, then, Dr. McDougal, in just the half a minute we've got left. If the Atkins' Diet were so dangerous, why hasn't the FDA stepped in to say wait, stop, don't go there?
MCDOUGAL: That's not their job. But I feel my responsibility as a doctor is to tell people that this is a hazardous diet. And if you look at the science, for example, research paid for by Dr. Atkins himself, you see that 70 percent of the people were constipated, 60 percent had bad breath, many have headaches. The evidence is clear; this is not a healthy diet. You can lose weight, but you sacrifice your health for a short-term weight loss. And that's what is important for people to focus on, and that's what this issue has done is got us to focus on the health issues. You can have health and weight loss.
NORVILLE: And our job is to facilitate that discussion, which you, Dr. McDougal and you, Dr. Pescatore, have done. Our job is also to move on to the next break. I thank you both for being with us.