It has been a rough couple of weeks for doctor and TV show host Mehmet Oz.
He was recently called to testify before a Senate subcommittee over his promotion of weight loss and dietary supplements that have no proven health benefits. Then, on June 22, comedian John Oliver rubbed salt in the wound with a 16-minute take down of Oz on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.”
Oliver showed several clips of Oz promoting dietary supplements on his daytime program, The Dr. Oz Show, using language like “a miracle cure” and “a miracle flower” to describe them.
“The only problem,” Oliver said, “is that magic pills don’t technically exist. And Dr. Oz knows that.”
Oliver highlighted the stark difference between Oz’s reasonable restraint in front of the Senate subcommittee and his enthusiastic endorsement of various “miracles” on his show.
Oz told the subcommittee he was “passionate” about many of the products he featured, even if the scientific evidence wasn’t there. “That’s fine,” Oliver responded, after playing the clip — but not when the passionate, unsubstantiated advice is coming from a doctor. “Don’t call your show Doctor Oz,” Oliver suggested. “Call it Check This Sh*t Out With Some Guy Named Mehmet.”
Oliver then offered some sobering context, noting that the issue of consumer protection against false medical advertising goes far beyond one TV show host. “Dr. Oz is just a symptom of the problem,” Oliver said. “The disease is that dietary supplements in the U.S. are shockingly unregulated.”
He went on to explain our inefficient and confusing regulatory system, which lets supplements operate independent from almost any oversight. The Federal Trade Commission is supposed to manage the marketing of dietary supplements, but that agency defers to the Food and Drug Administration to determine whether a health claim is accurate. The problem, Oliver explained, is that the FDA can’t investigate supplements unless people have already fallen sick.
That lack of regulation means that — before Dr. Oz ever enters the picture — supplements that have not been shown to be either safe or effective can be sold in U.S. stores. “None of this is likely to change,” Oliver conceded, “because companies have access to the one genuinely truly effective wonder drug.
“It’s called lobbying.”
Watch the full segment below.
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