Are We Surprised That Dr. Oz is Wrong?

Doctor Mehmet Oz, affectionately known as Dr. Oz, has become a celebrity physician thanks to his frequent appearances on Oprah and subsequent books, publicity tours, personal television show and events. For many Americans, he’s served as a familiar and friendly face of medicine, dispensing advice on a wide variety of subjects, especially issues like weight loss (an ever-popular subject in American culture). But now, researcher Christian Korowynk and her team say, we should think twice — because when it comes to those medical claims, “For recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence†supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%.”

Nearly 50% of the time, the advice he offers to viewers is, at best, dubious.

The question is: Are we really surprised? Skeptics and those with a high degree of medical literacy definitely weren’t, as many were suspicious of the claims made on programming like†The Dr. Ozshow. Other Americans, however, may have been taken aback by the news that a trusted figure wasn’t that trustworthy — and as the researchers noted, medical talk shows in general are not very accurate and should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Dr. Oz, like other celebrity figures, has become a figure of trust through social influencing. The networks that contribute to the creation of trust are a fascinating and complex subject, but in simple terms, think about how you trust people in your own life. If a friend introduces you to a new person and says she’s trustworthy, you’re inclined to believe your friend — because you trust her, and thus you extend the same courtesy to her friends (any friend of yours is a friend of mine, right?). The same is true on a larger scale: If you trust a public figure, you also rely on that figure’s endorsements.

Oprah Winfrey is a beloved staple of American pop culture, and she’s launched numerous careers through guest appearances on her show — Dr. Oz benefited from celebrity endorsement to win the attention and trust of viewers who might otherwise have been hesitant about him. Oprah was effectively the friend making the personal introduction and offering the endorsement, but unfortunately for Americans, she wasn’t a very good judge of character.

Notably, the researchers said, viewers assessing medical talk shows might want to consider issues like conflicts of interest, which are often not disclosed, and what, exactly, they’re being told. General medical advice (talk to your doctor about an exercise plan that works for you) and specific recommendations (take this product and lose weight)- are very different. Yet, Dr. Oz frequently endorses or hawks specific products, including those for which there is little to no medical evidence. Bizarrely, his team claims this means he’s ahead of the curve, bucking medical convention and promoting innovations in medicine. Developing the smallpox vaccine was revolutionary — promoting products known not to work is exploitative and manipulative.

With the revelations about Dr. Oz comes the†obvious question of whether he’ll face any kind of official sanctions. The FCC addresses issues like truth in advertising, but false claims on medical talk shows aren’t advertising in a traditional sense. Regulatory agencies may be able to address specific instances of advertising puffery, conflicts of interest and misleading statements, and it’s possible he may also face censure from professional organizations of physicians. Meanwhile, the question of whether America’s trust in the famous physician will be eroded depends on how many people read the news — the most effective way to educate consumers about the risk in following the medical “advice” offered on such shows may be a disclaimer at the beginning, but as we know, many people don’t read disclaimers and terms of service closely.

Photo credit: Recipe4Success

160 comments

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

I agree with Jennifer H. Good intentions and then they get caught up in the greed. Too bad for us.

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago

noted

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

I have never trusted any of the talk show folks. I think he started with good intentions and then got carried away.

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M.N. J.
M.N. J3 years ago

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Dr. Oz and Nutritional Supplements

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA0wKeokWUU

"John Oliver outlines what, exactly, is problematic about Dr. Oz and the nutrition supplement industry. Then he invites George R.R. Martin, Steve Buscemi, the Black and Gold Marching Elite, and some fake real housewives on the show to illustrate how to pander to an audience without hurting anyone."

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Betty H.
Betty H3 years ago

For Leigh E. - I have read through the research study (link is in the article) and found the following:
"Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.''
Until proven to the contrary, I believe we have to accept this assurance.

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Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

Thank you for the article.

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Fran away F.
Fran F3 years ago

Dr. Oz promotes oil palm products, and apparently is paid lots of money for doing so. Overall, I just don't trust him.

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Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

"...medical talk shows in general are not very accurate and should be taken with a large grain of salt." - you said it all!

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Kamia T.
Kamia T3 years ago

I have long suspected much of what he has to say, since my sister is a holistic naturopath and I'd check in with her. The problem with all medical advise is that it assumes we're all the same, and that's simply not true. So we each need to do the research to see what works for us.

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Angela P.
Angie P3 years ago

I am sure he is out the money. He is very believable and it does not shock me that so many people believe whatever he says.

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