June 19, 2014

Congress Grills Dr. Oz for Promoting Unproven Weight-Loss Supplements

On Tuesday, June 16, Dr. Mehmed Oz – the TV host and heart surgeon – got grilled by the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance for promoting dubious miracle weight loss supplements on his popular show.

The panel zeroed in on Oz’s public touting of green coffee bean extract as a “magic weight loss cure for every body type.” Panel Chairman Claire McCaskill told the TV star:
The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the … 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.
Hallelujah! Score one for science AND consumers.

Oz to His Own Defense
Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Oz did his best to preserve his credibility. He acknowledged that the green coffee bean extract marketers used a clip from his TV show on which Oz had hyped the supplement generally. But he denied giving his approval for that apparent endorsement. He said he has never promoted any specific brands or companies on his show, and that he earns no money for his recommendations of certain general supplements.

At least -- as far as we know -- Oz doesn’t have the financial conflict of interest that applies to most other media marketers. Of course he does make millions by getting viewers who are interested in medical miracles.

Still, McCaskill didn’t back off. "I get that you do a lot of good on your show," she told him, "but I don't get why you need to say this stuff because you know it's not true."

Oz parried again. He characterized the supplements he touts as short-term crutches, and yielded that there’s no really effective pill out there that will melt away the pounds without the commitment to diet and exercise. He continued:
I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show. I passionately study them. I recognize they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact but nevertheless I would give my audience the advice I give my family all the time, and I have given my family these products.

McCaskill kept the pressure on. "We didn’t call this hearing to beat up on you. ... [But] you can either be part of the police or be part of the problem, and we hope you’ll do a better job at being part of the police.

Peddling Snake Oil
Paul Hidalgo, the Center for Inquiry’s spokeman, characterized Oz as a snake oil peddler for his promotions on the TV show. He continued:
Too often celebrity gurus lure consumers into wasting their money and pinning their hopes on pseudoscientific concoctions that are at best useless, and at worst dangerous. It was very heartening to see Sen. McCaskill and the members of the committee confront Dr. Oz’s baseless claims head-on.

This high-profile case came to Capitol Hill after several recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission against fraudulent marketers in the weight loss industry. It sued Pure Green Coffee, the Florida company that brought its product to market soon after Oz had touted the extract.

Oz got a scolding, and he said he’d try to tone down the flowery language he uses during his promotions. Still, he was unapologetic.
My job is to be a cheerleader for the audience when they don’t think they have hope. I have things I think work for people. I want them to try them so that they feel better, so that they can do the things we talk about every day on the show [like diet and exercise].

Not a New Cause for Me
If I’ve railed against anything on this blog, it’s the unscrupulous media hucksters who promote products that have not passed proper and rigorous scientific muster, and that raise false, baseless hopes for millions of people and their families. I’ve called out Dr. Oz many times -- in February, 2013, I posted a commentary titled Jeckyll and Hyde: the Two Faces of Dr. Oz -- and was happy to see this very public scrutiny of his activities this week.

But will this new Senate pressure make Oz – and other hucksters out there – modify their behavior? Probably not much. But at least they’ll know that the government – in particular the FTC with its punitive hammer -- is watching now more closely than before.

Until the Food and Drug Administration assumes some oversight of the gargantuan and unregulated supplement industry, Tuesday's hearing was a small step in the right direction.

1 comment:

Eli Joseph said...

Yeah weight loss Green supplements are made for every body type. Well I have researched a lot and found these supplements completely safe for me. Now I am having supplements daily and I am losing my weight efficiently.