Malpractice Trials Past and Present
Dr Robert Atkins
Like many people in this field, Dr Atkins began by experimenting with himself, in the 1960's. He had success with a low-carbohydrate diet and began to tell his patients about that.
Dr Atkins was a medical doctor, not a researcher. He claimed that over 9 years he had successfully advised 10,000 patients, and that was the only proof needed to validate his work. However, he was relentlessly attacked by the medical and research establishment after his book, Dr Atkins Diet Revolution, became a best seller in 1972.
Dr. Frederick Stare and Dr. Theodore Van Itallie, were scientifically credible voices and they attacked Dr. Atkins in the press. Dr. Stare wrote, "Any book that recommends unlimited amounts of meat, butter and eggs, as this book does, is dangerous." ... "The author who makes this suggestion is guilty of gross malpractice."
The American Dietetic Association described the Atkins Diet as a "nutritionists nightmare."
As the foundations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were established, both Dr Ornish and Dr. Atkins complained that recommendations were wrong. Each wanting to move the recommended diet in opposite directions. During his lifetime, there was never any scientific research to back Atkins's ideas.
In the late 1990's Dr. Eric Westman, at Duke University, was inspired by the dietary success of a patient, to examine the medical files of Dr. Atkins. Not satisfied, he proposed some clinical research and got funding from the NIH. (For years the NIH, had refused to fund Stephen Phinney, for similar research.)
Eric Westman was particularly interested in the dietary effect on type 2 diabetes. He found that reducing carbohydrates and replacing them with dietary fat was extremely effective in managing diabetes. He has been strongly opposed by the American Diabetes Association, which continues to recommend a low-fat diet for diabetics.
Eric Westman was surprised at the vigorous opposition he encountered. He wrote, "When an unscientific fear of dietary fat pervades the culture so much that researchers who ... provide finding will not allow research into high fat diets for fear of "harming people." ... "The situation will not allow science to self-correct." ... "A sort of scientific taboo is created" which discourages research applications and prevents research funding.
Controversy in New Zealand
In New Zealand the main academic support for the low-carbohydrate high-fat diet is from Dr Grant Schofield. Professor Schofield promotes "Understanding how to be the best you can be" at the Auckland University of Technology.
Schofield witnessed on Vanuatu and Kiribati, people eating both healthy diets and unhealthy diets. Thinking that he understood the difference, on return to New Zealand he began with experiments on himself, with success.
He then studied the available literature, and began to involve other staff at the Auckland University of Technology. Soon he was working with the Millennium Institute of Sport, involving athletes in training.
A low-carbohydrate high-fat diet, like Grant Schofield is advocating, is completely at odds with the Ministry of Health's nutrition guidelines.
The highly respected, University of Otago Professor in Human Nutrition Jim Mann, and several other notable people and groups challenged what Dr Schofield was doing (2013).
The groups include: the University of Otago’s Edgar National Centre for Diabetes and Obesity Research, the Agencies for Nutrition Action, the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS); Dietitians NZ; the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation; the Cancer Society of New Zealand; Diabetes NZ; the New Zealand Society for the Study of Diabetes (NZSSD); and the NZ Stroke Foundation. Quite a line up.
Prof. Mann, says avoiding and treating obesity is central to advice about food and physical activity for people of all ages aimed at reducing chronic diseases, including several of the most commonly occurring cancers in New Zealand; type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.
"There is no evidence that this is achieved in the long term by very low-carbohydrate high-fat diets," says Professor Mann.
But the debate hasn't flared. Prof. Mann has read some of the latest research, and is less concerned than he was. Another critic, Prof. Rod Jackson, has visited the AUT research centre, and spent over 4 hours in discussion of scientific issues. Prof. Mann in 2015, wrote about his concern for nutrition research, much of which was funded by commercial interests associated with the sugar industry.
The issue isn't dead, but it is at least being considered in a sensible way. Nobody is charging Prof. Schofield with malpractice, yet.