Consumers spent $2.4 billion on weight loss services and products last year
WASHINGTON -- Members of a Senate panel scolded celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz on Tuesday for using his nationally syndicated TV show to hype dubious weight-loss products to naive consumers.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and other lawmakers called out Oz for describing certain supplements on his show as a "magic weight-loss cure," and "the No. 1 miracle in a bottle."
"I don't get why you say this stuff because you know it's not true," McCaskill said during Tuesday's hearing before the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, which she chairs. "So why, when you have this amazing megaphone and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?"
McCaskill held the hearing to discuss ways to protect consumers from weight-loss scams involving pills, creams and supplements.
She and other lawmakers said "The Dr. Oz Show" has become a catalyst for such scams, noting that products featured on the show enjoy a dramatic increase in sales. McCaskill said that encourages scam artists to "pop up overnight" and use deceptive ads to sell the product.
"The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you call miracles," McCaskill told Oz.
Consumers spent $2.4 billion on weight loss services and products last year, according to the the Federal Trade Commission.
Oz said studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the products he promotes on his show. While not all his featured supplements would pass Food and Drug Administration muster, he said, they produce results when used along with diet and exercise.
"My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience when they don't think they have hope and they don't think they can make it happen," he said. "It jump-starts you. It gives you the confidence to keep going.
Oz said he has been more careful with his wording on the show over the last two years.
Lawmakers at Tuesday's hearing specifically took aim at Oz's promotion of Pure Green Coffee beans, which claims to help users lose 20 pounds in four weeks and 16 percent of body fat in three months. The FTC sued the product's Florida-based makers in May.
Dr. Oz also aired a segment on raspberry ketone supplements, which was also faced FTC charges of false advertising.
Oz told lawmakers he's been victimized himself -- by companies using his quotes or his likeness out of context as an endorsement. He detailed counter-measures he's taken, which include a web site where consumers can report false endorsements. Oz also said he traveled to San Diego, Calif., to tape a segment in which he confronted one such scammer.
Executives representing ad regulatory agencies and a nutrition council also testified Tuesday, and agreed with Oz that some weight-loss supplements have shown results when used with diet and exercise.
The FTC has intensified its fight against weight-loss scams this year, charging four companies for deceptive advertising in January. The agency also released a set of "Gut Check" guidelines to help media companies spot deceptive advertising for weight-loss products.
FTC deputy commissioner Mary Koelbel Engle told lawmakers that over the last ten years, the agency has filed 82 claims targeting such ads and has collected nearly $107 million to refund to victims of weight-loss scams.
Prosecuting companies is difficult, Engle said. Supplement makers often hire other companies to create ads, she said, so it's hard to find out who's behind the false advertising.
"We've gone after every player in the ecosystem," she said.