Dr. Oz-High Profile Snake Oil Salesman?

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Dr. Mehmet Oz is one of America’s best known physicians and TV personalities. Oz reaches as many as 3 million viewers with his syndicated talk show in the US alone. An endorsement, or even a mention from Dr. Oz can send a product’s sales skyrocketing.

So, then, given his high profile exposure in the medical and health fields, and his how could Oz being harming Americans?

The answer, quite simply, is that, by leading people to believe that there is a road to fitness solely from gimmicks and “miracle supplements”, he persuades them to avoid the only two things proven to lead to good health; smart food choices and consistent, effective exercise programs.

Oz has made outlandish claims about supposed benefits from gimmick products that have no basis in scientific or medical fact. Among Oz’s quotes,

-“‘You may think 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 No. 1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat. It’s raspberry ketones.’

-“‘Garcinia Camboja. It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.’

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In 2014, Oz testified on front of a Congressional hearing about weight loss gimmicks and fraudulent advertising claims.  “I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said at the hearing. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?” Sen. McCaskill also said  “The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called ‘miracles. When you call a product a miracle, and it’s something you can buy, and it’s something that gives people false hope, I don’t understand why you need to go there.” When pressed, Oz admitted “There’s no long-term miracle pill out there without diet and exercise”.

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The weight-loss industry is an area where consumers are particularly vulnerable to fraud, Mary Koelbel Engle, an associate director at the FTC, testified at the Senate hearing. She said the agency conducted a consumer survey in 2011 and found that more consumers were victims of fraudulent weight-loss products than of any of the other specific frauds covered in the survey. Dr. Oz was playing into this narrative, by indirectly endorsing products that created false hope for their purchasers.

In December 2014, a study published in the journal BMJ concluded that fewer than 1 in 3 claims made on “The Dr. Oz Show” can find support in the medical literature, while nearly 40% of them can’t be backed up at all. (read more here)

More recently, a group of top doctors has demanded Columbia University remove him from their faculty, citing his “egregious lack of integrity” for promoting what they call “quack treatments.” “Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine,” said a letter the 10 physicians sent to a Columbia dean earlier this week. They say he’s pushing “miracle” weight-loss supplements with no scientific proof that they work.

The doctors wrote that Oz, for years a world-class Columbia cardiothoracic surgeon, “has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.” They said he has “misled and endangered” the public.

Popular Science and The New Yorker have expressed criticism of Oz for giving “non-scientific” advice. These criticisms include questioning if he is “doing more harm than good”.

The James Randi Educational Foundation has awarded Oz with their Pigasus Award, an award intended “to expose parapsychological, paranormal or psychic frauds that Randi has noted over the previous year. The award consists of a silver flying pig and refers to claiming something so doubtful that it will only happen “when pigs fly”. Oz has been given this award on three separate occasions, more than any other recipient:

-In 2009 for the promotion of energy therapies such as Reiki.

-In 2010 for support of faith healing and psychic communication with the dead, among other controversial practices. Oz became the first person to receive a Pigasus Award two years in a row.

-In 2012, Oz won “The Pigasus Award for Refusal to Face Reality” for his continued promotion of “quack medical practices, paranormal belief, and pseudoscience”.

So what does this mean for most people? In short, only exercise and proper nutrition will lead you to a healthy lifestyle. There are no gimmicks, shortcuts or miracle pills that will replace those two components, and those who profit by promoting such are doing the public more harm than good.

Jim Harris