The Atkins diet is protected by the First Amendment against the claims of a Florida man who said the low-carbohydrate meal plan was dangerous and to blame for his heart troubles, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin made the finding as he tossed a lawsuit in which Jody Gorran of Delray Beach, Fla., claimed his cholesterol level shot up from 146 six months before he began the diet to 230 afterward, leading to severe chest pain and an angioplasty treatment.
Gorran, a wealthy businessman, wanted the judge to order warning labels be put on the Atkins books and other related merchandise, similar to the way they exist on cigarette packages.
The judge said a book about the diet was not an advertisement for products but rather was a guide to leading a controlled-carbohydrate lifestyle.
Besides, he noted, Gorran admitted he had consumed large amounts of pastrami and cheesecake, foods the average consumer expects may increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
The judge in Manhattan said in a footnote that he has had success with his own “much simpler diet, which can be described in four words: Run more, eat less.”
In his lawsuit, Gorran, 56, sought unspecified damages, accusing Atkins Nutritionals Inc. and Paul Wolf, co-executor of the estate of Dr. Robert Atkins, of products liability, negligent misrepresentation and deceptive conduct.
Gorran, reached by telephone in Florida, called the ruling “an outrageous decision” and said he looked forward to an appeal. He said he was not after money with the lawsuit.
“We wanted to set a precedent that manufacturers could not simply hide behind the First Amendment and lie to the public when they’re making a buck off that speech,” he said.
Gorran said he considers his health to be excellent since he quit the diet, which he had followed between May 2001 and October 2003.
A lawyer for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which represented Gorran, said he expected to file an appeal within days.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed,” attorney Daniel Kinburn said. “We think it’s a real blow to consumers.”
Gorran said the Atkins system, calling for a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, is dangerous because it increases the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer.
Lawyers for the Atkins company did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.
The judge wrote that Gorran’s claims were without merit because the company’s books and food products are not defective or dangerous within the meaning of products liability law and the Atkins diet merely consisted of advice and ideas.
“The concepts may be controversial and the subject of criticism, but they are protected by the First Amendment,” he said.
The Atkins diet calls for restricting carbohydrates to achieve weight loss before gradually adding them back in. However, many people who say they’re following the diet actually eat large amounts of protein and fat.
Before ruling, the judge said, he read passages of the 1999 and 2002 editions of “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” which explains the diet Atkins conceived of in the 1970s and the belief that it is safe for everyone, regardless of the amount of high-fat food the dieter consumes.
He said Atkins acknowledged in his book that risk factors for heart disease can worsen for some “fat-sensitive” people who follow the diet but that medical reports suggest that fewer than one person in three falls into that category.