A senate panel interviewed Dr. Mehmet Oz on Tuesday regarding his claims of various ‘miracle’ weight loss cures, despite little scientific evidence for many of his claims. He has created a thriving industry of fraudulent supplements containing minimal amounts of the “active ingredient,” and including a “as seen on The Dr. Oz Show” line in their advertising. As supplements are not regulated by the FDA, there is no way to regulate that a supplement is what it claims to be or if it even works. Dr. Oz has always defended himself by claiming that he does not endorse particular supplement brands. While he appears to think he’s preserving his integrity, it leaves his viewers confused about where to purchase those products, making them easy targets for scammers. Given his large audience and the amounts of supplements he praises, this happens quite frequently.
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, as 34.9% of American adults have gone beyond overweight and are considered obese. Collectively, being overweight or obese costs Americans $450 billion per year due to things like increased medical expenses and disability from work. It is no surprise that many become desperate to shed some pounds. The only problem is that losing weight the old fashioned way, in terms of healthy eating and exercise, takes longterm dedication and sustainable results come slowly. That’s no good, considering when we Americans want something, we want it right now. Preying on the desperation of so many, the weight loss industry (including pills, shakes, and clubs) is a $60.9 billion per year industry, despite having an extremely low success rate. The Federal Trade Commission, which seeks to protect consumers from false claims, has been cracking down on weight loss products that don’t deliver.
On his show, Dr. Oz frequently advocates “the latest, greatest” fad that he claims will blast the fat away within days without having to put in much effort. On his show’s website, a search for “exercise” yields 1910 results, while “weight loss supplements” yields 9510 results. He has exalted many ‘miracle’ supplements over the years, including saffron extract, raspberry ketones, forskolin, and African mango seed. For most of those products, there is little to no scientific evidence to back up Dr. Oz’s claims. However, it was his unabashed endorsement of green coffee bean extract (GCBE) which landed him in the hot seat in front of a senate panel on Tuesday.
After mentioning on his show that GCBE was an effective weight loss supplement in the spring of 2012, countless manufacturers cashed in on the excitement, flooding the market with the pills, charging an average of $50 for a one month supply. To date, the largest placebo-controlled study indicating a benefit of GCBE used only 117 men taking one of three different doses for one month, hardly enough to assert, as Dr. Oz put it, that it was “the magic weight loss cure for every body type”. This study hadn’t even been published when it was first mentioned on his show, which Senator Claire McCaskill, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, called him out on.
"I can't figure this out, Dr. Oz," Senator McCaskill said. "I get that you do a lot of good on your show. I understand that you give a lot of information that's great information... you're very talented and you're obviously very bright. You've been trained in science-based medicine... I don't get why you need to say this stuff when you know it's not true. When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show?... With power comes a great deal of responsibility.”
She went on to stress that his credentials (he is a cardiothoracic surgeon and professor in the Department of Surgery at Columbia University) give his viewers every reason to trust that the products he discusses on the show are of good quality and actually work, though his viewers generally just get ripped off.
"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," Oz said in his own defense. However, there’s a very fine line between exhausting every option and preying on someone’s trust and insecurities to build false hope in bullshit products.
Later during the interview, Dr. Oz conceded some of the supplements he promotes “don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact” and that he has “used flowery language... which was meant to be helpful, but wound up being incendiary and provided fodder for unscrupulous advertisers.”
"I need to be a part of this [solution],” Dr. Oz stated. “I want to play a role.” Hopefully, he means that and will put an end to sensationalized fads in favor of quality, science-based health advice.