WASHINGTON—Mehmet Oz, the popular TV personality known as Dr. Oz, admitted Tuesday that some products he features on his shows are merely crutches for people on weight-loss programs and wouldn’t pass FDA muster.
Oz, also a cardiothoracic surgeon and Columbia University professor, answered questions from a Senate panel on protecting consumers from false and deceptive advertising of weight-loss products.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., led the hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. She said she worried Oz was melding together medical advice, news, and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.
“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true,” she said. “When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show?”
Oz responded that he used “passionate” and “flowery” language when describing the supplements, but stood by the products.
“I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show,” he said. “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.”
The hearing was a follow-up to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission against a Florida-based company that sells green coffee-bean extract for $50 a bottle. The company capitalized on the product after Oz featured the supplement on his syndicated TV show.
Many doctors and scientists are suspicious of Oz’s medical advice. Edzard Ernst is a doctor who researched the garcinia extract that Oz touted as a breakthrough. Ernst published research showing the extract had no impact on body weight.
Others claim that Oz is at fault and not just a victim. They say he features questionable weight-loss solutions, calling them “magic” or “miracles.”
“I'd like to hear you use flowery language about the beauty of a walk at sunset, or how it feels to get off the bike,” McCaskill said. “But used with the words ‘miracle,’ ‘pill,’ and ‘weight-loss, and it’s a disaster.”
With more than two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese and upward of $40 billion spent on weight-loss methods, Americans are desperate for solutions, especially quick fixes.
“Americans unrealistically yearn for a magic bullet, and unscrupulous marketers take advantage of these desires with hollow promises,” said Steven Mister, another witness at the hearing and president and CEO for the Council for Responsible Nutrition.
The Dr. Oz Show has tried to implement several scam-fighting tools, such as “Oz Watch,” the “It’s Not Me” campaign, and an episode of the show called “Dr. Oz Takes Down the Scammers.”
Oz offered several ideas to cut down on these too-good-to-be-true ads and scams, including protection for company whistleblowers. He also suggested creating a directory of which celebrities actually do endorse products. Media outlets could consult the list before allowing ads to appear.
Oz said he considers himself a cheerleader for his audience: “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 … for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”