Watch Comedian John Oliver Blast Dr. Oz and Dietary Supplements Industry

June 23, 2014

The host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” called supplements industry “shockingly unregulated.”

Comedian John Oliver, host of “Last Week Tonight,” blasted the dietary supplements industry on his HBO show last night, calling the industry “shockingly unregulated.” Oliver began by covering the testimony of Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” at a Senate Subcommittee hearing last week on deceptive advertising of weight-loss products.

During the hearing, the Senate Subcommittee criticized Dr. Oz for the “flowery” language has used on his show to describe the efficacy of some dietary supplement ingredients, including promoting a product as “a miracle flower to fight fat” or “the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.”

Subcommittee chair Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told Oz, “Dr. Oz, I will have some tough questions today about your role-intentional or not in perpetuating these scams. When you feature a product on your show, it creates what has become known as ‘The Oz Effect,’ dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products. While I understand that your message is also focused on basics like healthy eating and exercise, I’m concerned that you are melding medical advice, news, and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff, because you know it’s not true,” McCaskill (D-MO) continued. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

Oz said he disagreed that the supplements he promotes on his show don’t work. “I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about in the show. I passionately study them,” he told the Subcommittee. “I recognize that oftentimes 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’ve given my family these products, specifically the ones you’ve mentioned.”

“My job, I feel on this 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 at alternative healing traditions-for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”

Still, Oz did admit, “I do think I’ve made it more difficult for the FTC [in] that in intending to engage viewers, I’ve used flowery language. I’ve used language that was very passionate, but it ended up not being helpful but incendiary-and it provided fodder for unscrupulous advertisers.”

Read more of Dr. Oz’s testimony during the hearing. 

On his show, comedian Oliver blasted not only Dr. Oz but the supplements industry at large, calling the industry “shockingly unregulated.”

“Dr. Oz is just the symptom of the problem,” Oliver said, calling Oz “dangerously likeable.” “The disease is the fact that dietary supplements in the U.S. are shockingly unregulated.”

He criticized the fact that dietary supplement laws allow supplements to be sold without preapproval.

“The FTC is supposed to regulate the marketing of supplements, but by their own admission, they give great deference to the FDA on whether a company’s health claim can be supported. The problem with that is the FDA has little authority to investigate the contents of supplements until people are already getting sick from them. That sounds crazy.”

Under FDA regulations, dietary supplements do not need preapproval, but they must be safe for use and contain the ingredients listed on the label. The FTC can pull products off the market for making false or misleading claims.

Still, Oliver said, “Now the supplement industry will claim that it is one of the more highly regulated industries. See how true you think that is-because if you’re a supplement company today, you do not need approval from the FDA before a product is marketed, you can make health claims without prior approval from the government, and you don’t have to prove the safety or effectiveness of your product before putting it up for sale.”

“The industry is essentially supposed to police itself,” he joked. “That’s like all of those porn sites that ask you to enter your own age, which basically just ends up teaching children how to subtract 18 from the current year. It doesn’t work.”

In April, Oliver also criticized health claims for food products in light of the recent Supreme Court case involving POM Wonderful and Coca-Cola.

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