Dr. Oz Grilled By Senator Over “Miracle” Weight-Loss Claims

Dr. Oz testifying on Tuesday morning before a Senate consumer protection subcommittee.

Dr. Oz testifying on Tuesday morning before a Senate consumer protection subcommittee.

Since he started appearing on pal Oprah Winfrey’s show a decade ago, and especially since he launched his own inexplicably popular daytime talk show in 2009, Dr. Mehmet Oz has had a history of being a bit overly enthusiastic about some of the alternative and nontraditional treatments he’s highlighted, resulting in countless scammers cashing in on the questionable weight-loss treatments he’s described as “miracles,” like the green coffee extract that is the subject of an ongoing federal action. This morning, Dr. Oz is appearing before a Senate subcommittee and admitting that his “cheerleading” for products that he admits are just “crutches” has caused trouble for himself and for the Federal Trade Commission.

Missouri Senator Clair McCaskill, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, went straight for Dr. Oz’s jugular in her opening remarks on this morning’s hearing about the false and deceptive advertising of weight-loss products.

“When you feature a product on your show, it creates what has become known as ‘Oz Effect,’ dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products,” the Senator explained. “I’m concerned that you are melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”

In his prepared opening comments, Dr. Oz says that even though he never mentions specific products or tells his millions of viewers what to buy, unscrupulous scammers use his words and likeness to peddle their often questionable products.

“It’s a problem I have spent immeasurable time, effort, resources and money to combat,” said the doctor. “I’m chagrined to say the problem has only increased exponentially… I am forced to depend my reputation every single day.”

Dr. Oz openly admitted that the weight-loss treatments he mentions on the show are frequently “crutches… You won’t get there without diet and exercise,” and that while he believes in the research he’s done, the research done on these treatments would probably not pass FDA muster.

“If the only message I gave was to eat less and move more — which is the most important thing people need to do — we wouldn’t be very effectively tackling this complex challenge because viewers know these tips and they still struggle,” said the doctor. “So we search for tools and crutches; short-term supports so that people can jumpstart their programs.”

Sen. McCaskill quoted three statements that the great and doctorful Oz had made about different weight-loss treatments on his show:

•(On green coffee extract) — “You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found the magic weight-loss solution for every body type.”

•(On raspberry ketone) — “I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat” (raspberry ketone)

•(On garcinia cambogia) — “It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”

“I don’t get why you say this stuff, because you know it’s not true,” said McCaskill. “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 took great issue with the Senator’s assertion that he doesn’t believe in the treatments he endorses.

“I don’t think this ought to be a referendum on the use of alternative medical therapies,” said the doctor. “I’ve been criticized for having people coming on my show to talk about the power of prayer. As a practitioner, I can’t prove that prayer helps people survive an illness.”

Countered McCaskill, “It’s hard to buy prayer… prayer’s free.”

“I do personally believe in the items that I talk about on the show,” responded Dr. Oz, who acknowledged that statements he’s made in the past have encouraged scam artists and others looking to make a quick buck on people looking for an easy way to lose weight.

“I do think I’ve made it more difficult for the FTC,” he continued. “In the intent to engage viewers, I use flowery language. I used language that was very passionate that ended up being not very helpful but incendiary and it provided fodder for unscrupulous advertisers.”

The doctor says his show has curbed the use of such language in recent years. He also says there are products that he believes in but that he’s yet to discuss on the show, “because I know what will happen.”

But the Senator wasn’t going to let him off the hook.

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products that you called miracles,” she told the doctor. “And when you call a product a miracle and it’s something that you can buy and it’s something that gives people false hope, I just don’t understand why you need to go there.”

McCaskill pointed to the FTC’s “Gut Check” list of seven warning signs that a weight-loss product is likely going to only make your wallet lighter.

She urged Dr. Oz to, instead of dumping half-researched “miracles” on viewers looking for quick answers, he instead educate his audience about the items on that list — “that there isn’t magic in a bottle, that there isn’t a magic pill, that there isn’t some kind of magic root or acai berry or raspberry ketone that is going to all of a sudden make it not matter that you’re not moving an eating a lot of sugar and carbohydrates.”

In response, the doctor said he tells his audience that information all the time.

“Then why would you say that something is a miracle in a bottle?” asked the Senator.

“My job, I feel, on the 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 wanna look — and I do look — everywhere… for any evidence that might be supportive to them,” explained Oz, who believes that products like green coffee extract jumpstart someone’s weight loss program and “gives you the confidence to keep going, and then you start to follow the things that we talk about every single day — including those seven items [on the FTC Gut Check list].”

Throughout his testimony, Dr. Oz repeatedly reminded the subcommittee that he has to do constant damage reputation — along with taking legal action against some scammers — because of the people who abuse his enthusiastic statements for their own ends. However, the Senator was not exactly moved to tears.

“I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim,” concluded McCaskill. “I think that if you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized quite as frequently.”