Dr. Oz the Snake Oil Salesman

Most often I go to the gym after work, and arrive between 4:00pm and 5:00pm. There are TV monitors on the wall, and I could tune an FM receiver to be able to hear what’s on them. I prefer my workout playlist, but many others do watch what is on the screen. One of the screens is almost always tuned to the Dr. Oz show.

This past week Dr. Oz was called before the United States Senate’s consumer protection panel. He was taken to task for making claims on his show about “miracle” supplements that will allow people to lose weight without diet and exercise. Specifically, he was called out for his claims about Green Coffee extract, saying it was a “magic weight loss cure for every body type.”

Soon after his making that claim in 2012, a company started using a clip from his show to promote the product. Last month the Federal Trade Commission sued the makers of that product for making bogus claims and deceiving consumers.

In his defense, Oz claimed that he had never received money from or given permission to any company to use his image to endorse any such product. I wonder, though, how rigorously he elected to go after those that did.

When testifying he says that he never endorsed specific health supplements. But the tape doesn’t lie. He clearly made the statement in 2012 about green coffee bean extract. By weaseling around with terms, and saying he never endorsed a specific product, he stays clean in the eyes of the law. But, in the court of public opinion it is a different story for me.

He claimed in front of the US Senate that he is a “cheerleader for the 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 including alternative healing traditions for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”

He also acknowledged that there are no “miracles in a bottle”, that there are no magic supplements or elixirs that will make someone lose weight effortlessly.

But, wait a minute. You KNOW that there are no miracles, but you search for things to give people hope? Hope in what? Hope that there Really is a miracle out there that if we just look hard enough we will find? I am sorry, but selling false hope, to me, is worse than actually selling the snake oil.

Somewhere along the line Dr. Oz went from being a brilliant surgeon, to a snake oil salesman. He went from presenting good, hard facts about medicine to people, and opted to go down the gimmick route. I believe him when he says he made no money from those selling the supplements, although a thorough check of who advertises on his show, and what companies THEY own might prove interesting. But, he does still profit from making these false claims. People all over the country sit on their couches and tune in, hoping that the good doctor will tell them the secret to weight loss as they enjoy an afternoon snack. When the truth is that the “secret” is to get up off the couch, put down the bag of treats, and get out and exercise.

I have long used the tired adage that “if it sounds too good to be true, then it isn’t.” The Federal Trade Commission published something called “The 7 Gut Check Claims”, to help consumers weed out false diet ads. You can read their full report here. These are the 7 claims that the FTC says should be regarded as false:

  1. causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise;
  2. causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats;
  3. causes permanent weight loss even after the consumer stops using product;
  4. blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight;
  5. safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks;
  6. causes substantial weight loss for all users; or
  7. causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin.

By the way, if you doubt what he said, here is a clip with Dr. Oz’ voice and image (from ABC News WPFB Channel 25, published December 7, 2012):

And here is a clip from his show where the words “The Miracle Pill to Burn Fat Fast” are emblazoned on the wall behind him as he extolls the virtues of the pill:

“You may think magic is make believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight loss cure for every body type.” – Dr. Mehmet Oz.

So, Dr. Oz, you can dance in front of the Senate and pull out your weasel words. But the facts are the facts. You might be able to skirt the law because you didn’t take money from the supplement makers, but you did profit from the false hope that you, and hucksters like you have heaped upon people for decades. Your show has grown in popularity, increasing ad revenues, and lining your pockets from your false, misleading and ultimately harmful claims.

Yesterday I posted that I have lost 50 pounds in the last 16 weeks. I still have a long way to go to get to my ultimate goal weight. Would I love it if there was a pill I could take that would make the fat evaporate? You are damn right I would. But, I live in the real world. In the real world the way to lose weight and become more healthy is to get up off my slightly smaller ass, get to the gym, eat a healthy and sensible diet, and put in the work. That’s it. No secret, no miracle. Just good, common sense.

One comment

  1. Great blog post. I’m not a fan of Dr. Oz. I’m sure he’s a good man, I’m just not sure what all the hype is about. I hope he has learned that his word can cause harm, even when it’s not his intention.

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