Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Harvard grad and physician with a degree from the Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is a cardiac surgeon. Or at least he was before he garnered the attention of Oprah and found his way into the spotlight. Five years after starting his own TV show, Dr. Oz has slipped from respected cardiologist to ‘miracle’ worker. As he says, “My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience, and when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look, and I do look everywhere, including in alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them,”
Yet when questioned on the CBS This Morning show, the day of his appearance on The Hill, Dr. Oz said, “ I have constantly reminded viewers never to buy anything that uses my name or a clip from my show and that I do not sell any products.” (CBS News, 6/17/14) He has made some surprising comments on The Dr. Oz Show and it is hard to imagine he would be able to continue promoting the dietary supplement industry (intentionally or otherwise) if he made that statement on his television show before sounding off with the following:
“You may think that magic is make believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they’ve found the magic weight loss cure for every body type. It’s green coffee extract.”
I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat. It’s raspberry ketone.” (Forbes.com, 1/10/14)
“Garcinia combogia: It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.” (Forbes.com, 1/10/14)
Senator Claire McCaskill, chair of the Senate Consumer Protection panel is not as convinced as Dr. Oz. She called Dr. Mehmet Oz to testify before this week’s investigation of deceptive advertising by the dietary supplement industry. It was hard to discern if he was appearing as an expert witness, or as an example of a modern day Snake Oil salesmen.
Dr. Oz defended his practice of offering unsubstantiated quick weight-loss schemes. “My show is about hope. We’ve engaged millions in programs – including programs we did with the CDC — to get folks to realize there are different ways they can rethink their future”.
Is Dr. Oz really trying to instill hope in his viewers? Where is his medical, and scientific, support for his proclamations of near magical weight loss? He has become a celebrity doctor, and unlike other celebrities who tout the latest and greatest, his advice has the potential to cause harm.
Dr. Oz undoubtedly feels as if he is contributing to the fight against obesity. He may also, however, be contributing to a dangerous proliferation of unregulated dietary supplements.
Senator McCaskill’s panel is investigating deceptive advertising, as is the Federal Trade Commission, which is charged with protecting consumers from “unfair or deceptive advertising and marketing practices that raise health and safety concerns.” One of the products Dr. Oz has publicly endorsed, the Green Coffee Bean product, has been under investigation by the FTC. The FTC doesn’t have authority to regulate the product itself. That task falls under the purview of the FDA, charged with the regulation of prescriptions and drugs. The FDA, importantly, lacks the authority to regulate the manufacturing and selling of dietary supplements. It is an ongoing issue as dietary supplement use continues to rise in America. Ironically, obesity is still a growing problem. Yet people remain hopeful, and many companies, and people, feed that hope and profit from it.
The symbolism behind the name “Oz” is not lost on those of us who worry about the slippery nature of dietary supplement advertising. Dr. Oz may feel he is simply instilling hope but the effect of his “endorsements”, intentional or not, is troublesome. His audience trusts his words because of his status as a physician and his connection to Oprah. He has used his position to, many believe, mislead millions of viewers.
“When I feel as a host of a show that I can’t use words that are flowery or passionate,” Oz said, “then I feel that my power has been disenfranchised.” Hippocrates may be rolling in his grave.