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Creator of Dukan diet loses libel case against rival

Dr Pierre Dukan, whose famous dieters include Penelope Cruz and Kate Middleton's mother, ordered by court to pay Dr Jean-Michel Cohen and a French health magazine damages of €3,000 after trying to sue over criticism of protein-rich Dukan plan.

The French creator of the Dukan diet, an eating plan followed by millions around the world, has suffered an embarrassing setback with defeat in a libel case against a rival nutritionist who claimed it causes serious health problems.

Dr Pierre Dukan, whose famous dieters range from Penelope Cruz and Jennifer Lopez to Kate Middleton's mother, was ordered to pay Dr Jean-Michel Cohen and a French health magazine damages of €3,000 (Dh15,900) for abuse of process.

A court in Paris ruled there was nothing libellous about Dr Cohen's comments in Meilleure Santé (Better Health), published a year ago.

In particular, Dr Cohen had spoken of the risk that the protein-rich Dukan plan could cause, among some dieters, a "sharp rise in cholesterol, cardiovascular problems and breast cancer".

Dukan's diet first appeared in France in the book I Can't Lose Weight. The book was aimed at those who have failed in previous attempts to become slimmer. International sales of 24 million are claimed, making it a bestseller in the United States and Britain as well as France.

But Dr Cohen's lawyer, Richard Malka, said after the judgment: "It is not because you are a good businessman, a good communicator, often on the covers of magazines that you can escape from a legitimate scientifically based critique. What is essential is the safety of the patients and not the touchiness of the doctors."

Mr Malka described the outcome as a "total defeat" for Dr Dukan. "Clearly, the court was not persuaded by the diet," he said. "I argued that the action was grotesque and the court said it was baseless … It really takes absolute sensitivity and megalomania to believe you cannot be criticised when you sell books in their millions and are concerned in public health."

On French RTL radio yesterday, Dr Dukan said he would not appeal against the court's decision, which he considered secondary to the satisfaction of millions of dieters who had confidence in him.

Earlier, he had issued a statement regretting that Dr Cohen had shown respect for neither friendship nor medical ethics by publicly speaking ill of a colleague.

In the run-up to judgment, the leading French daily newspaper Le Figaro featured Dr Dukan on the cover of its magazine, quoting him as saying he launched proceedings in the hope of stopping Dr Cohen's criticisms, but now regretted doing so "because the attacks did me no harm".

He said they had enjoyed a good relationship until his diet became successful, presenting competition for Dr Cohen.

Dr Dukan denied that money had ever been the principal motivating factor in his work, saying he drew more satisfaction from "giving well-being, health, self-esteem and probably longer life" in a world where 1.3 billion people were overweight.

The fact remains that the Dukan eating plan equals big business, with a series of follow-up books and a range of recipes and products.

The diet has four phases, two of "attack" and two of weight stabilisation. In the initial stages, dieters eat only protein, such as meat or fish, and oat bran. Later, non-starchy vegetables can be added every other day and the diet becomes gradually more balanced while retaining one protein-only day each week. Dieters must also exercise regularly.

Dr Dukan admits there can be short-lived problems, as in the earliest phase when vitamin intake is reduced, but insists that these must be seen against the much more severe health risks arising from obesity.

However, the effectiveness of the plan, as well as possible health implications, has been called into question.

Dr Dukan's critics include a team of doctors from the Paris hospital Pitié Salpêtrière, who found that 75 per cent of those questioned had regained the weight lost while following the diet.

The BBC conducted its own straw poll, questioning four dieters in London and Paris.

A Parisian teacher said she lost 6kg in two weeks but put it all back on again once she stopped the diet, which had the side effects of bad breath, a dry mouth and constipation.

But the others gave the diet their approval. A Londoner working in marketing said he ended up "eating breast of chicken, breast of chicken and breast of chicken", but was happy with his weight loss of 5kg in a fortnight.

Dr Dukan sent a copy of his book of recipes to Carole Middleton after learning last autumn that she was following his diet in preparation for this year's wedding in London of her daughter to Prince William.

"When I wrote the diet in my small Parisian office in 1975 I never thought I'd be posting a copy to Prince William's mother-in-law," he said in an interview quoted by the London Daily Express. "It's an honour. She has done more to fight obesity than anyone and for that I am most grateful."

Dr Cohen's diet, which is also followed by millions hoping to lose weight, takes a low-calorie approach in which no food is banned. The court judgment on Tuesday leaves nutritionists, publishers and would-be slimmers watching for the next stage of what the French press has taken to calling "the diet war".

* With additional reporting by Associated Press.

Updated: July 7, 2011 04:00 AM