OTR Interviews

A Weighty Issue

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, February 11, 2004.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Dr. Atkins' wife is taking on those who say her husband's famous diet of meats and cheeses killed the diet guru.

Yesterday, it was reported Atkins was 258 pounds at the time of his death. The medical examiner's report was leaked to The Wall Street Journal by a vegan group among Atkins' top critics.

However, according to a hospital report Mrs. Atkins gave to USA Today, Dr. Atkins weighed 195 pounds when he was admitted to a hospital after a fall on April 8, 2003.

Can the 60-plus-pound weight gain be explained?

Joining us in New York is forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden.

And, Dr. Baden, I suppose the whole weight issue as well assumes that we don't know his height, I mean, which has some bearing on it. And, secondly, we're assuming that one of these numbers is correct or that both of them is correct, right?

BADEN: Right. I think that there are often discrepancies in height and weight on autopsy reports during life. There's been a study on drivers' licenses, and the height on a driver's license is a number of inches bigger than the person's actual height.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's called lying. That's a little different, though. That's a person wanting to be taller and thinner.

BADEN: That's right. That's right. That's right. There may be discrepancies.

As far as weight goes -- a body is weighed after death on a metal scale that may weigh 30 pounds or 20 pounds placed on a large scale. Sometimes the morgue attendant, the person who weighs the body, may forget to subtract the weight of the scale and the clothing on the body so larger weights may be recorded than is actually true.

But, in this instance, I don't think the 60-pound difference can be explained by treatment in a hospital. He had brain hemorrhage. He died because he fell, had a skull fracture, had an epidural hemorrhage around the brain. The treatment for that is to take as much fluid away from the brain as possible.

By loading up somebody with a lot of fluid would be very harmful to somebody with the kind of blunt trauma that Dr. Atkins had. So I think there's a real discrepancy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think there's probably a mistake in these numbers? I mean the family says it's under 200, and this -- at least this report that's, quote, "leaked" -- we haven't seen the actual autopsy report -- says it's 250.

BADEN: Yes. Well, supposedly, there was no autopsy, which is also part of the problem. But either the wife is incorrect at 190 pounds or the weight is incorrect. I don't think it can be accounted for by treatment in the hospital because of the nature of the condition he had.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let me switch to the other thing. It also is reported that he had a history of myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and hypertension, but he's an older man. I mean is that something -- some people are saying that that could be because of the diet, but is that something sort of in the normal course of business you would expect at that age?

BADEN: Yes. I think that's unfair because 40 percent of us are going to die from heart disease, another 20 percent from cancer, and the fact that a cancer doctor dies of cancer doesn't mean his treatment for his patients was bad in any way, and I -- whether Dr. Atkins' diet is good or bad isn't established by what his heart disease is, which is most probably -- the most important factor is probably due to heredity.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think of the diet?

BADEN: I know so many people -- my wife is on the Atkins diet -- that lose weight on the Atkins...

VAN SUSTEREN: My husband has been. I will admit that. I hope he's not watching, but he's been on it, too.

BADEN: And I know so many people who have lost weight on the Atkins diet. I mean diet is kind of a mystery, and there are so many opposing diets, and it seems to work for a lot of people, and you can't argue with success.

VAN SUSTEREN: It may work in losing weight, but is it unhealthy?

BADEN: Meanwhile, the expected life expectancy has gone up in the past 10 years, so whatever people are doing with the Atkins diet, it certainly hasn't cut down life expectancy, and I think whether or not it's unhealthy is still a scientific debate, and I think whether or not Dr. Atkins died from heart disease doesn't help resolve it one way or the other.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. All right, Dr. Baden. Thank you for joining us.

BADEN: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Tell your wife good luck on the diet.

BADEN: Thanks, Greta.

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