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Good coverage over on SupermarketGuru.com of the reports that the late Dr. Robert Atkins, who popularized the low-carbohydrate, meat-egg-and-cheese diet, was 258 pounds and had a history of heart disease when he died last April at age 72 after hurting himself in a fall on an icy street.

"Atkins was six feet tall; weighing 258 pounds would have made him technically obese, according to standards set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," SG writes. "According to reports, Atkins had suffered a previous heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension, all conditions that are related to obesity."

Stuart Trager, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council in New York, told the Wall Street Journal that Atkins' heart disease stemmed from cardiomyopathy, a condition that is believed to result from a viral infection. And when Atkins released a statement in 2002 saying he was recovering from cardiac arrest, he said it was due to a heart infection that was "in no way related to diet."

Now, these reports continue to be the source of some controversy. In fact, USA Today reports this morning that, in fact, Atkins wasn't obese - that he 195 when admitted to the hospital after a fall on April 8, 2003, and that his weight ballooned to 258 in the hospital because of fluid retention from organ failure.

He went into a coma and died April 17 at age 72.
KC's View:
Can we all just calm down?

First of all, keep in mind that this is largely a political discussion, fueled by the radical vegetarian agenda pursued by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which released the information to the WSJ to begin with.

And it is an issue made even more political by low-carb's sheer pervasiveness. According to the NPD Group, about 10 million Americans, or 3.5 percent of the population, currently are on a low-carb diet. However, it is estimated that as many as 40 million Americans have tried Atkins, the South Beach diet, or one of its low-carb brethren - even though there remain some medical questions about the long-term health impact of a low-carb regimen.

Whether or not Atkins' death was related to his physical condition, if it is confirmed by authorities that he had weight issues and heart problems, it is hard to imagine that it won't have some sort of impact on low-carb mania. Americans, in matters like these, often are like lemmings…they attach themselves to programs and initiatives - especially those that offer quick fixes - until an alternative comes up, and then they switch directions and never look back, no matter what cliff they may be walking off.

No matter how much Atkins' supporters and even his widow protest, it may not matter much. They may be protecting his legacy, but they also will be perceived as protecting a multi-million dollar empire.

As SG.com fairly points out, Atkins' heart and weight problems may not have had any relationship to his death - though it would seem logical that one should question the wisdom of eating steaks and bacon if one has heart disease, no matter what precipitated the condition.

These issues are all so ephemeral and, in some ways, illusory. After all, think of great athletes like Jim Fixx and Hank Gathers and Pete Maravich who would have appeared to be in terrific health, and who died relatively young of heart-related ailments.

All we can do is our best. And "best" probably means "balanced" - as in a diverse, nutritious diet combined with frequent and vigorous exercise.

By the way, we've been pleased to have been asked by the Food Marketing Institute to moderate a three-hour Learning Lab session at its May show entitled The Obesity Opportunity: Shrinking Waistlines, Building Bottom Lines.

There may be no more pressing health issue facing the marketplace than the obesity epidemic - not just in the United States, but throughout the world.

The ever-expanding waistlines of adults and children create long-term health implications, and offer an enormous number of marketing and sales opportunities for the savvy and aggressive food retailer. This in-depth examination of "the obesity opportunity" will frame the issues in way that will help retailers and manufacturers understand how to connect with different shoppers over this issue, develop strategies that capitalize on the issue, and give stores a differential advantage in the eyes of consumers. And, exciting new research from both Rodale Press and The Hartman Group will be presented.

If you want to know more, stay tuned…