Watchdog Rejects 'Healthier' Atkins

June 1, 2005
The Times (London)
by Nicola Woolcock

A CLAIM that the Atkins diet helps followers to “enjoy a healthier lifestyle” has fallen foul of advertising watchdogs.

Newspaper advertisments repeating the claim were condemned by the Advertising Standards Authority, which called for them to be dropped. It could not be proved and was at odds with government advice on achieving a balanced diet.

Celebrity devotees of the diet have included the actresses Jennifer Aniston and Rene Zellweger and the singer Robbie Williams. It involves eating high levels of protein through meat and dairy products, avoiding starchy foods such as bread, potatoes and pasta.

The diet appears to have fallen from favour in recent months. Atkins Nutritionals UK, a subsidiary of the United States-based corporation, closed this year. After its premises in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, were shut down in March, a spokeswoman blamed competition for its demise. Research by Mintel last year suggested that 5.6 million adults had considered dropping carbohydrates, but those who had stuck with the regime had fallen to 1.35 million.

Atkins Nutritionals Inc insisted that the diet would not only help people to lose weight but also lead to a healthier lifestyle. It claimed that it was a “scientifically validated strategy for weight control and good health”. The company also supplied 44 scientific studies to support the “healthier lifestyle” claim.

The ASA said that the advertisers had failed to demonstrate that the diet was nutritionally well-balanced. The studies were carried out over short periods or were limited in their scope and several had called for longer assessments.

The regional press adverts showed pictures of Atkins-branded foods with the tagline “Atkins, the original low-carb lifestyle.”

The ASA said: “The authority considered the short-term nature of evidence supplied by the advertisers did not support the long-term claim being made.”

According to the company?s website, the Atkins Nutritional Approach is a “lifetime nutritional philosophy” that includes cutting down on refined carbohydrates such as high-sugar foods, breads, pasta, cereal and starchy vegetables.

The ASA found that “the plan conflicted with UK government advice on achieving a balanced diet, which among other things stated that starchy foods should make up about a third of people?s diets.”

It ruled that any future Atkins advertising should be on an “availability-only” basis until the advertiser could prove that its health claims were true.

The Atkins website says that its products are on sale in more than 1,000 British stores. The company, founded in the US in 1989 as Atkins Complementary Formulations, also produces diet supplements.