Dr. Mehmet Oz, celebrity doctor and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, was called a liar by a senator Tuesday as he testified before the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance. He was advised to stop making baseless claims about dietary supplements, some of which he has labeled as miracles.
To point out their absurdity, some of Dr. Oz’s words from his television shows were read out loud to him by Senator Claire McCaskill. For green coffee extract, McCaskill relayed that Oz labeled it a “magic weight loss cure,” a “miracle pill,” and that it “may hold the secret to weight loss that you’ve been waiting for!” Later in the hearing, Oz demoted such characterizations of green coffee extract to “worth trying.”
Also on his show, Oz declared raspberry ketone as “… the number-one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.” As well, he stated that garcinia cambogia “… may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”
Even with such implications of permanent weight loss, Dr. Oz appeared to backpedal, saying that the supplements discussed on his show are short-term crutches and that a long-term weight loss miracle pill does not exist in the absence of exercise and a truly healthy diet. He also admitted before the panel that his language in such cases had been “flowery.” Oz arguably never endorsed specific products but, instead, has generally glorified certain generic health supplements for fat burning. He pledged to the committee that he would produce a list of specific commercial products he believes can jettison pounds.
Senator McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, acknowledged that Dr. Oz and his show do a lot of good and that he himself is talented and bright. She continued addressing the doctor, however, as if scolding an ignoramus and calling him a liar: “I don’t know why you need to say this stuff, because you know it’s not true. Why … would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?” The senator told Oz that scientists are “almost monolithic against you” regarding the effectiveness of the products he has called miracles.
The hearing was called to delve into deceptive and false advertising of weight-loss products. A source close to Dr. Oz said the doctor was blindsided by the aggressive examination, that he and his staff understood that the invitation to Washington was intended to testify about scams “…and instead it became all about how much we hate your show.”
Also testifying at the hearing was Federal Trade Commission (FTC) associate director Mary Koelbel Engle. She noted a 2011 survey commissioned by her agency which confirmed that more people were victimized by deceitful weight-loss products than any of the other specific frauds tracked by the survey.
Legally, companies that market dietary supplements can make outrageous claims in their advertising. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates products for safety, but only after reports of harm have been filed and grab the agency’s attention.
Oz is admired for his position at Columbia University and his daily delivery of health-related messages via his television show that reaches millions of viewers. Whether or not a senator has called Dr. Oz a liar, his clout will continue to significantly influence the diet and supplement industry.
By Gregory Baskin