Dr. Oz Defends His Show's Impact on Weight-Loss Scams

June 17, 2014

Dr. Oz said he is "second-guessing" the way he presents weight-loss supplements on his television show.

Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” said during a senate subcommittee hearing today that he is “second-guessing” the way he presents weight-loss ingredients and dietary supplements on his television show. The hearing, which centered on the topic of protecting consumers from deceptive weight-loss products and advertising, also heard testimony from the FTC, the Council of Better Business Bureaus, internet industry group TrustInAds.org, and dietary supplement associations the Council for Responsible Nutrition and the Natural Products Association.

During the hearing, Dr. Oz said he is frustrated by companies that falsely employ his name, image, or statements to endorse and sell questionable weight-loss products. Oz emphasized that he has never sold or endorsed a dietary supplement product and that he encourages his viewers to report supplement marketers fraudulently using the Dr. Oz name through Oz Watch, a page on The Dr. Oz website. Moreover, he says his company has issued more than 600 cease-and-desist letters to marketers.

“Part of the reason why I came today is because this is a huge problem for me,” he said. “I’m forced to defend my reputation every single day.”

But the senators, led by Consumer Protection Subcommittee chair Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), told the doctor that the language he is known to use on his show may create unrealistic expectations and high demand for weight-loss supplements, driving consumers to unintentionally purchase products from fraudulent marketers looking to profit on any hype around an ingredient promoted on "The Dr. Oz Show." McCaskill quoted some of Oz’s statements on his show, including, “I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat-it’s raspberry ketone” and “Garcinia cambogia: it may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products [green coffee bean extract, Garcinia cambogia, and raspberry ketones] that you’ve called miracles,” McCaskill said. “And when you call a product a ‘miracle,’ and it’s something that you can buy and it gives people false hope, I just don’t understand why you needed to go there.”

Oz said that while he recognizes that his “flowery” language has been “incendiary” in terms of sparking product demand and opening opportunities for “unscrupulous advertisers,” “I feel as a host of a show that [if] I can’t use words that are flowery, that are exhilaratory, I feel like…my power has been taken away to get to people.”

When asked if he believes there is a magic pill for weight loss, Oz said, “If you’re selling something because it’s magical, no. If you’re arguing that it’s going to be like magic because if you stop eating carbohydrates, you’re going to lose a lot of weight, that’s a truthful statement. You might not agree with the flowery use of the word magic, but it is true that most people cutting out simple carbs will lose weight.”

Oz said he believes in the products he recommends. “I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about in the show. I passionately study them.” Also, he noted, on his show he warns viewers that the dietary supplements he recommends are not meant for long-term use but as a way to kick-start a weight loss program, in combination with diet and exercise.

Still, he said, “Your comments about the language I use is well heard, and I appreciate it…I’m in a situation where I’m second-guessing every word I use on this show right now.”

Oz said he has worked to tone down his language during the past two years. He said he features on his show guests who positively review supplements, as well as those who criticize them. But, he pointed out, "I have not been talking about products in that way for two years, and it has not changed at all what I'm seeing on the Internet [in terms of unscrupulous advertisers], and frankly, it's getting worse, so I completely heed your commentary and I realize that to my colleagues at the FTC, I have made their jobs more difficult. That's why I came today. I'm cheerleading this process. I want to do anything I can to help. But taking away those words doesn't change the problem that's already happened."

Oz told the senators he believes fraudulent supplement marketing will only lessen when regulatory agencies increase enforcement against fraudulent marketers. Moreover, he said, it will take a “public-private cooperative effort" between the FTC, legitimate product manufacturers, Internet ad-hosting services, and media outlets like “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Oz had a few more suggestions. He proposed creating a private-sector list on which celebrities can clarify which products they actually endorse. He said this could help web-hosting services determine which products are legitimately endorsed. Second, he suggested incentivizing employees to report unlawful practices at the companies they work at, including dietary supplement firms. And, finally, he suggested creating a bounty hunter system, funded by the private sector, to track down fraudulent marketers using phony endorsements online.

Oz also questioned whether he should start referring his audience to reputable companies from which to buy products. Until now, he said, he’s resisted doing so because he felt it lessened his credibility.

"You know what the biggest disservice I've done for my audience is? It's not the flowery language that Senator McCaskill is criticizing me for; it's that I never told them where to go buy the products. I wanted to stay above the fray, and I felt in my own mind that if I talked about specific companies selling high-quality products, it would seem like I was supporting those companies," said Oz. "And so I never gave the audience the idea of where to go and buy the stuff. So that opened up a huge market for folks just to make fake stuff...and to use my name to try to sell it. I left my audience hanging, thinking I was doing the ethical thing...Maybe I'll do it in the future."

“I came here [to this hearing] because I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said. "I'm very respectful. I've heard the message. I've told my colleagues at the FTC that I get it."

 

Jennifer Grebow
Editor-in-Chief
Nutritional Outlook magazine
jennifer.grebow@ubm.com