Fans of Dr. Oz, the surgeon-turned-TV-star, are buzzing about his appearance before congress about products touted one way or another as weight loss miracles on his show.
If you religiously view medical talk shows like Dr. Oz, you’re probably likely to believe his appearance before Congress was nothing short of a “witch hunt.” That’s pretty much the way it goes with celebrities: their fans are quick to provide an automatic defense of them that sometimes borders on the irrational, even when the questions being asked aren’t really so unreasonable if one takes the time to remove the personality from the issue.
Appearing before a senate committee, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, made it clear that he does not make money from, nor allow his image to be used in the promotion of, diet supplements designed to help people lose weight.
At the same time, he admitted to using “flowery language” in describing a diet supplement in 2012.
Oz said he never endorses specific companies or brands, but more generally praised some supplements as “fat busters.” He also told the committee that if he talks about the positive effects of a product on his show, it’s a product he has researched and would even give (or has given) to his own family.
“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called ‘miracles,'” Committee Chairman Claire McCaskill said. “When you call a product a miracle, and it’s something you can buy, and it’s something that gives people false hope, I don’t understand why you need to go there.”
The real question here — which goes well beyond Oz himself — is how such discussions on his program register to viewers. No matter how much Oz insists he is not promoting a product, there’s that so-called “Dr. Oz Effect,” a phenomenon in which products shown on Oz’s show suddenly see skyrocketing sales immediately after their appearance. Especially if he in any way refers to the product as some sort of “weight loss miracle.”
I’m sure it doesn’t happen with every product, although I could be wrong. In any case, if it’s happening to products he praises, even he makes not the first cent on the mentions, does the possibility of sudden sales success require that celebrities like Oz must choose their words (and praise) more carefully?
The answer, naturally, depends on whose side you’re on.
All of the various medical shows have lengthy disclaimers in their credits that remind viewers that the program should not be considered a replacement for one-on-one medical advice from one’s own doctor. But these days, who reads credits? For that matter, who can read credits that fly by so quickly because marketing consultants have insisted that credits need to be short so as not to encourage people to change the channel?
Oz told CBS News that while he never makes claims that people can take a pill then eat whatever they want and still stay healthy, he’s learning that things can be construed that way if poeple don’t watch the entire segment in which a product is being talked about.
That’s not something Oz will likely ever be able to control, and with some people’s attention spans seemingly getting shorter and shorter, it’s a problem we’re likely to see much more of going forward.
You Tell Me: If you see a celebrity doctor praise a product on a television show, do you assume that it’s an endorsement? Do you assume that the doctor believes in the product and is encouraging people to try it, or do you make no such assumptions at all?