Dr. Oz says he is accustomed to being a “cheerleader” for healthier lifestyles every day in front of 3 million people on national TV. On Tuesday, he discovered he was not in the studio any more, but in a Capitol Hill woodshed.
He apologized – to a degree – for using “flowery” of “colorful” language promoting the use of controversial weight-loss products that Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says has contributed to a scam-infested industry.
“We’ve all heard and seen the ads, promising quick and substantial weight-loss if only you take this pill, drink this shake, use this device, or apply this cream,” said McCaskill, chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance. “All without adjusting diet or increasing physical activity. It seems too good to be true. And of course it is.”
Then she turned to the man also known as Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, vice chairman and professor of surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“You are very powerful and with power comes a great deal of responsibility,” McCaskill said. “I know you care about Americans’ health. ... And you are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space. …You can either be part of the police here or you can be part of the problem.”
Oz assured her and a packed hearing room he had gotten the message.
“Your comments about the language I use is well heard and I appreciate it,” he said, adding that he regrets some of his descriptions have been used – out of context and without his permission – to defraud in “a way that is harmful.”
But Oz argued that he, too is a victim of these practices, which he said stem in part from his “passion” that has caused him to use words he says he now regrets.
He said he has never endorsed a specific product or profited from their use. He defended his support of weight-loss products on his show as “tools and crutches for short-term support” so people desiring to lose weight “can just start their programs,” and that the bulk of his advice is to “eat less and move more.”
“Many of these are controversial,” he said, but “I would rather have a conversation about these materials on my stage than in back alleys.”
He added: “I am second guessing every word on the show right now.”
McCaskill, whose hearings can have the feel of the courtrooms she once inhabited as a federal prosecutor, seemed unconvinced.
While she said she did not haul Oz before the committee to “beat up on you,” McCaskill played clips from a show two years ago, and read transcripts from more recent shows, in which Oz says “scientists” have “found the magic weight loss cure for every body type” in green coffee extract; that raspberry ketone is the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat,” and that the tropical plant extract garcinia cambogia “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 is not true,” she said., addinig that he has a special responsibility because he is a medical doctor. “You have an amazing megaphone. ... Why would you cheapen your show when you say things like that?”
After the hearing, she said that “it is hard to tell sometimes with Dr. Oz where the doctor begins and ends, and where the entertainer begins and ends.”
The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on the $2.4 billion diet supplement industry, an industry that FTC Deputy Commissioner Mary Koelbel Engle described Tuesday as one with “strong consumer interest” where “unfortunately fraud often follows.”
Over the past decade, the FTC has filed 82 false or unsubstantiated claims actions against makers of weight-loss products and services, and since 2010, it has collected $107 million in consumer restitution for deceptive weight-loss claims, Engle told McCaskill’s committee.
“We do pursue both fly by night companies and established companies,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of players in this space.”
Avertisers, ad watchdogs, responsible nutrition advocates and dietary supplement manufacturers also testified before McCaskill’s committee.
“Our first rule to all customers is always consult with your health care provider, and that dietary supplements are part of a broader healthy lifestyle that includes diet and exercise,” said Daniel Fabricant, CEO and executive director of the Natural Products Association.
Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said that “a number of dietary ingredients in weight loss supplements, when they are combined with moderate exercise programs and sensible eating,” have been shown in well regarded clinical trials to be safe and effective for weight management.”
But others, he said, “make outrageous claims that promise the weight will fall off without changing what you eat, and without exercise.”
Oz told McCaskill and other committee senators that he spends most of his time emphasizing good eating and exercise, but that he also is open to other ways to jump start a person into a better healthy lifestyle.
Should he be skeptical of people who say prayer helps in that way, he asked McCaskill?
“Prayer is free,” McCaskill shot back.
“Good point,” Oz said. “Prayer is free.”