Medical doctor and television personality Mehmet Oz was taken to task at a Senate subcommittee hearing for claiming that green coffee extract, raspberry keytone and garcinia cambogia are “miracle” weight-loss products. Subcommitte Chair Claire McCaskill read several Oz quotes such as, “I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.” She asked Oz why he made such claims when he knew they were false. Oz was one of several witnesses at the “Protecting Consumers from False and Deceptive Advertising of Weight-Loss Products” hearing held today by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has, over the past decade, brought 82 weight-loss related legal actions against advertisers in an effort to combat fraud. A recent trend in weight-loss scams is the use of celebrities, such as Dr. Oz, to act as spokespersons and endorsers. According to the FTC, shortly after a Dr. Oz show segment extolled the benefits of green tea extract for weight loss, online marketers began making outrageous claims about the products effectiveness.
The Committee sought Oz’s testimony because of the influence he has on viewers, which drives the market for many weight-loss products. Once a product is discussed on Oz’s show, sales of the product often accelerate, a phenomena called by some “the Oz effect.” Senator McCaskill questioned why Oz would use his “megaphone” to promote scientifically unproven products.
“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products that you call miracles.” — Sen. Claire McCaskill, Consumer Protection Subcommittee
Oz began his testimony with a prepared statement in which he explained that fraudulent advertisements, using his image and out-of context quotes, have plagued his career. “These ads,” says Oz, “take money from trusting viewers, many who believe I’m actually selling these items. Let me be clear …I have never sold supplements.” He commended the committee and the FTC for focusing on the problem of weight-loss scams and wishes to help in the effort to end them.
Oz says he showcases products that viewers can use to jump start healthier eating habits. He wants to give them hope. Oz asserts that he always tells his viewers that to lose weight they need to eat less and move more. He introduces products that may give dieters some early success so that they will be motivated to continue with a program of healthy eating and exercise. Oz says he does recognize that the passionate language he uses serves as fodder for the unethical ads, and he now is more careful with the words he uses to discuss products.
Earlier this year, the FTC issued a “gut-check” list for media outlets to be used when screening ads for publication. An ad containing any of the seven claims on the list should throw up a red flag, alerting the media to the possibility of fraud. Claims that a product causes substantial weight loss without changing eating habits, or ads selling topical creams to remove unwanted fat are among the common deceptions used by fraudulent marketers. For consumers, the FTC has just launched an online game, “Weight Loss Challenge,” designed to educate consumers about deceptive weight-loss advertising.