Atkins Bankruptcy Stories on Low-Substance Diet

Atkins Bankruptcy Stories on Low-Substance Diet
Media focus on end to a craze, but wheres the beef about how business responded with healthy lifestyle foods?

By Dan Gainor
August 2, 2005

     The Atkins Diet was one of the major players in the American weight loss debate. Now that the company behind the diet has filed for bankruptcy, most of the major media wanted a bite of the story. As Anchor Campbell Brown of NBC Nightly News put it in the Aug. 1 broadcast, Weve all heard the term crash diet, but tonight, news of a diet crash.

     The stories on all three major networks, along with CNN and Fox News focused little attention on how Atkins was a prime example of business responding to consumer desires. As the popularity of the diet grew, stores, restaurants and manufacturers bent over backwards to accommodate customers. Rather than requiring regulation to address fears of obesity, the business community was able to respond quickly and efficiently to a new weight-conscious market.

     Some of the other lessons missed in the buffet of coverage included:

    Inconsistent statistics: On the Aug. 1 NBC Nightly News, reporter Bob Faw cited the high end of the diet fad: A year ago today, according to one survey, 9 percent of American adults stuck to a low-carb diet. The same night on ABCs World News Tonight, reporter Dan Harris choose other numbers. Over the course of last year, the number of Americans who said they were on a low-carb diet such as Atkins or the South Beach diet, went from a high of 12 percent all the way down to 6 percent.
    Find the agenda: When in doubt, the networks turned to food industry critics for comment. NBC brought on long-time industry opponent Marion Nestle and labeled her a Public Health and Nutrition Expert. Had reporters done their homework, they would have found Nestle has been a long-term advocate of major government intervention in the food industry and has advocated taxes and sweeping regulations. In a Sept. 3, 2004, USA Today story, Nestle complained even when PepsiCo unveiled its Smart Spot products. The Smart Spot line included healthier, baked versions of Cheetos and Lays potato chips, foods Nestle said people shouldnt be eating at all.
    Lame labels: The same NBC show that gave Nestle such a generic label was quick to call Center for Consumer Freedom President Rick Berman a Food Industry Advocate. Oddly enough, that was an improvement. When Berman was on NBC Nightly News on July 6, he was described as the man who runs the food industry-funded Center for Consumer Freedom. NBC never gives anti-food industry spokesmen the same treatment.
    Words of wisdom: Reporter Chris Huntington of CNNs Wolf Blitzer Reports understood the reality of diets better than most. On the Aug. 1 show, he explained: You can lead a horde of people to low carb diets, you just can't make them eat their products. That logic escapes the food police who insist on mandating choice and limiting options.
    Usual Suspects: Wolf Blitzer Reports raised the question whether the diet works and almost immediately turned to another food industry critic, Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. That group, 95 percent of which is made up of non-doctors, has an extensive anti-industry background and even fights against drinking milk. A 2001 press release from the group urged D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams to drop the idea of doing a Got Milk ad and to consider his constituents' best interests and not promote milk, a product that makes so many of them sick.