Senators on Tuesday blamed the host of the Dr. Oz Show for contributing to several weight-loss scams, by using his show to promote miracle pills that haven't been backed up by science.
Dr. Mehmet Oz appeared at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, where senators said Oz has been too careless in describing supplements as "magical" products that can help overweight Americans lose weight quickly.
Dr. Mehmet Oz was criticized by senators on Tuesday for contributing to weight-loss scams. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
"Dr. Oz, I will have some tough questions for you today about your role, intentional or not, in perpetuating your scams," said subcommittee Chairwoman Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). "When you feature product on your show, it creates what has become known as the Oz effect, dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products.
"While I understand that your message is also focused on basics like healthy eating and exercise, I'm concerned that you are melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers."
Oz said he was also upset at the proliferation of weight-loss scams that use his name without permission to sell questionable products. Oz said he has used "flowery language" in the past to describe his support for diet supplements, but been more careful over the last two years to temper his editorial comments about these products.
Still, he said weight loss scams continue to thrive.
"This, to my knowledge, has had no discernible impact," he said of his efforts to tone down his show. "Marketers are still able to select a single phrase of support without the surrounding context and continue profiting unimpeded."
McCaskill quoted Oz as saying green coffee beans are a "magic weight loss cure," and that raspberry ketone is a "miracle in a bottle," and said those words are still resonating.
"The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called miracles," she said. "And when you call a product a miracle, and it's something you can buy, and it's something that gives people false hope, I just don't understand why you need to go there."
Oz said those words were from two years ago, but still defended his right to use "flowery" words by saying his show is about giving people hope.
"My job on the show, I feel, on the show, is to be a cheerleader for the audience," he said. "And when they don't think they have hope, when they don't think they can make it happen, I want to look and I do look everywhere, including at alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them."
Oz admitted that he would never claim that science has backed up his support for green coffee beans. "I'm not going to argue that it would pass FDA muster if it was a pharmaceutical drug seeking approval, but among the natural products that are out there, there is a product that has several clinical trials," he said.
But Oz said it's not always about scientific proof. "I've been criticized for having folks come on my show talking about the power of prayer," he said. "As a practitioner, I can't prove that prayer helps people survive an illness."
McCaskill replied that recommending prayer has far fewer consequences for people. "You don't have to buy prayer. Prayer is free."
"That's a very good point," Oz said. "Thankfully prayer is free."
Oz made it clear that he wants the government to succeed in stopping weight loss scams from using his name to promote products, and said he doesn't sell any supplements to his audience. Toward that end, he recommended that the government beef up its enforcement efforts, and that the private sector could do more to reward whistleblowers for stopping unscrupulous marketing campaigns.
He also admitted that diet and exercise remain the core components of any weight loss plan. Under questioning from Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Oz said supplements are just supplements.
"There's not a pill that's going to help you long-term lose weight and live the best life without diet and exercise."
Oz appeared just weeks after the Federal Trade Commission sued the makers of the Pure Green Coffee supplement for making false claims about its product. An FTC official testifying on the same panel with Oz said that company capitalized on Oz's promotion of green coffee supplements, and said that sort of endorsement can make it hard for consumers to resist.
Oz was contrite, and said toward the end of the hearing, "I get it."
"I completely heed your commentary, and I realize, to my colleagues at the FTC, that I have made their jobs more difficult," he said. That's why I came today."