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Dr. Oz taken to task by Senate for endorsing diet products that don't work

Dr. Oz was taken to task by a Senate Subcommittee for his hawking of ineffective diet products
Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Losing weight is tough and millions of Americans purchase products every day to help in that endeavor. Most of them don’t work. Millions of Americans also take the advice of TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz seriously, too. According to NBC News on June 17, the Senate wanted to know why Dr. Oz pushes diet products that don’t work on his show.

The very popular Dr. Mehmet Oz is actually a cardiothoracic surgeon, but most people know him from his TV show. And since people take his word as gospel, Claire McCaskill, a Democratic senator from Missouri who chairs a subcommittee on consumer protection, wanted to know why he “cheapens his show” by hawking questionable products.

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true. So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

Senator McCaskill talked about the so-called "Dr. Oz Effect." "When you feature a product on your show it creates what has become known as the ‘Dr. Oz Effect’ — dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products,’ she said. “While I understand that your message is occasionally focused on basics like healthy eating and exercise, I am concerned that you are melding medical advice, news, and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”

While Dr. Oz admitted he uses “flowery” language on his show, he said he realizes that scammers take advantage of his recommendations to sell products that don’t work. “I concede to my colleagues at the FTC that I am making their job more difficult,” he said. He told the panel that you have to be passionate to engage your audience; therefore, the “flowery” language.

In his defense, Dr. Oz said, “I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show. I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to pass as fact. I have given my family these products.” He also stated that the products give people hope to keep trying to lose weight.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), they have been struggling for over 80 years to get fake diet products off the market. The internet, however, has made their job even harder. It’s oftentimes impossible to track down the perpetrators of diet scams and celebrity endorsements don’t help.

"For instance, within weeks of an April 2012 Dr. Oz Show touting green coffee bean extract as a miracle fat burning pill that works for everyone, the marketers of the Pure Green Coffee dietary supplement took to the Internet making overblown claims — like ‘lose 20 pounds in four weeks’ and ‘lose 20 pounds and two to four inches of belly fat in two to three months’ — for their dietary supplement," said the FTC’s Mary Koelbel Engle.

“In the past 10 years, the Commission has brought 82 law enforcement actions challenging false or unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of a wide variety of weight-loss products and services."

Dr. Oz has, in fact, sued some of the companies using his image. He said he does not sell products and that scammers will use his face no matter what.

McCaskill wouldn’t give up. “I want to see all that floweriness, all that passion, about the beauty of a walk at sunset,” she said. “The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of a few products that you have called miracles. I just don’t understand why you need to go there … You are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space.”

I doubt any of us will see a downturn in the products promising instant and marvelous weight loss in our lifetimes. However, the FTC asks us to use some common sense when looking for and purchasing a new "miracle" diet product. If the ad makes the claim that their product does any of the the following, don’t buy it!

  • Causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise;
  • Causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats;
  • Causes permanent weight loss even after the consumer stops using the product;
  • Safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks;
  • Causes substantial weight loss for all users; or
  • Causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin.
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