The doctor behind the Dukan Diet is under fire for suggesting there be an exam teenage students in France pass by staying thin.
Dr. Pierre Dukan, whose Atkins-like diet has been credited for the famous figures of Kate Middleton and Gilsele Bundchen, faces a disciplinary hearing for “remarks, which could harm teenagers already struggling with obesity or anorexia,” according to a complaint filed Sunday by the French College of Physicians.
In January, Dukan said France’s Baccalaureate exam — a test 17-year-olds have to take to finish high school and go on to college — should include an anti-obesity option, which students could satisfy by staying within their recommended weight ranges, the BBC reported. The French College of Physicians said Dukan was in breach of France’s medical ethics code, which says “a doctor must be aware of the repercussions his views can have on the public.”
“Everything about this is wrong,” said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “It’s wrong because it invites eating disorders. It’s wrong because weight has nothing to do with academic performance… and the notion that weight is a behavior that should incentivized is just wrong. Weight is an outcome. We should incentivize things people can control.”
Katz said the emphasis should be on physical activity and diet choices.
“If we apply rewards to weight, we’re mistaking weight for a behavior. Some people who eat well and are physically active are heavy. And some people who eat poorly and don’t exercise are thin,” he said. “This misses the mark in every conceivable way.”
Roughly 18 percent of American adolescents are obese, up from 5 percent in 1980, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a second complaint, the French College of Physicians said Dukan was more focused on making money than on medicine — another ethics breach. Dukan has sold more than seven million copies of his dieting books, the BBC reported.
“People in public health and medicine should first and foremost be committed to doing good,” said Katz, adding that he does not know Dukan’s motivations. “As long as they’re being honest and honorable and using the available scientific evidence, I think it’s OK [to make money as well]. I think when money is the priority, you don’t belong in public health or medicine in the first place. If you want to make money, work on Wall Street.”
Dukan’s diet, which consists of four phases dubbed “attack,” “cruise,” “consolidation,” and “stabilization,” has been criticized for being too restrictive. In July 2011, Dukan lost a libel case against Dr. Jean-Michel Cohen, who described the famous diet as dangerous.
“I certainly think there’s potential for it to do harm,” said Katz. “There’s a real danger to health if people stay in the restrictive [attack] phase. But the biggest danger is it sets you up to fail.”
Katz said the stabilization phase, in which dieters reintroduce foods that were once restricted, almost inevitably leads people to gain back lost weight — a common criticism of the Atkins diet, too.
“I think the Dukan Diet is a discredited Atkins diet with a French accent,” said Katz.
The ethics hearing will take place in the next six months. If he’s found guilty, Dukan could be removed from France’s medical registry.