He didn’t even have the grace to squirm.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has done more to foist unproven diet products on the American public than any other celebrity pitchman, appeared this week on Capitol Hill at a Senate subcommittee hearing about weight loss scams.
If you thought Oz, a heart surgeon with excellent professional bona fides, might apologize to the millions of Americans whose efforts to lose weight he has sabotaged by proclaiming the miracle properties of this or that berry or bean, you would be wrong.
Instead, he managed to make his appearance a statement about how he brings hope to a hopeless world, and how he has been victimized by fraudsters who have used his name to promote their products without permission. (Products, let us not forget, that he has touted on his show.)
“I do not endorse any products or receive any money from any products that are sold,” he testified. “I have never allowed my image to be used in any ad.”
Claire McCaskill, the Democratic Missouri senator who chaired the hearing, was not having any of that. “I know you feel that you’re a victim,” she said. “If you would be more careful, maybe you wouldn’t be victimized as frequently.”
Oz’s disclaimer notwithstanding, a positive mention on his show is the same as an endorsement. To ignore that is to ignore his enormous influence on consumers -- what some have dubbed “the Oz effect.”
For instance, after he spoke about Neti pots, an Ayurvedic treatment used to irrigate stuffy sinuses, sales of the product spiked 12,000%. At least that’s what his co-executive producer Amy Chiaro told Forbes.
The problem is that Oz mixes so much good advice with blather that it’s hard to know where the science ends and the hype begins.
"I can’t figure this out, Dr. Oz," said McCaskill. "I get that you do a lot of good on your show….You are obviously very bright. You have been trained in science-based medicine. Now here are three statements you have made on your show:
"‘You may think magic is make believe but this little bean has scientists saying they’ve found the magic weight loss cure for every body type--it’s green coffee extract.’
"‘I’ve got the No. 1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat. It’s raspberry ketones.’
"‘Garcinia Camboja. It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.’
“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true," she added. "So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, do you cheapen your show like that?”
He couldn’t really say.
Instead, he defended his enthusiasm for unproven weight loss products, explaining that scientific advancement often is the result of “challenging orthodoxy.”
“I don’t think this ought to be a referendum on the use of alternative medical therapies,” he said. “I’ve been criticized for folks coming on my show to talk about the power of prayer.”
McCaskill retorted, “You don’t have to buy prayer. Prayer is free.”
The science, she told Oz, “is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called miracles. If it’s something that gives people false hope, I just don’t understand why you have to go there.”
Because, he seemed to imply, false hope is better than no hope.
“My job is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” he explained. “When they don’t think they have hope, I want to look everywhere … for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”
And, he added, he is still comfortable recommending green coffee extract to his viewers if they can find “a reputable version” of the substance, whatever that means.
(Last month, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against one purveyor, Pure Green Coffee, claiming it made bogus weight loss claims on bogus news websites. “Popularized on the syndicated talk show The Dr. Oz Show, green coffee bean extract was touted as a potent weight loss treatment that supposedly burns fat,” the FTC said in a release about the complaint.)
After his Senate testimony on Tuesday, Oz seemed to come to his senses about how defensive he sounded. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he took part in the hearing “because I am accountable for my role in the proliferation of these scams and I recognize that my enthusiastic language has made the problem worse.”
Better late than never.
I’m not a doctor, but I do have an Rx for Oz fans who have put their faith in products that do nothing to help them lose weight.
Eat less, move more. And take everything Dr. Oz says about weight loss products with a big old grain of salt.
Burn calories by following @robinabcarianCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times