Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

22 April 2015

It’s a hungry beast, the celebrity machine. Just one taste is enough to keep some appetites churning with endless desperation. It has turned innocent young hopefuls into attention-hungry demons, fact-finding professionals into infomercial starlets and a once-trusted medical megastar into a universally lampooned punchline.

The rise and fall of America’s Dr Oz would be a cautionary tale with a dose of hilarity if it weren’t underpinned by a dangerous lack of professionalism. Mehmet Oz first gained the attention of daytime audiences with his many appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s talk-show. A key recipient of Oprah’s magic touch, he joined the ranks of Dr Phil in spinning his fame into his own brand of daytime TV. Naturally, the endorsements for diet products, vitamin pills, and all manner of questionable health products quickly followed in a Looney Tunes-style cloud of dollar signs.

But cashing in on the natural instinct to improve one’s health is a little more complex than giving advice to a divorcee on the Dr Phil show, or Oprah interviewing Tom Hanks (again). Among the growing list of questions being thrown at Dr Oz is his promotion of a range of weight-loss products.

Apparently green coffee-bean extract keeps the doctor slim and trim. A recent Senate panel wasn’t so convinced. And if his blatantly dodgy brand of “Dr Nick”-style medical advice wasn’t transparent enough for everyone, the British Medical Journal was all too happy to set the record straight. A report released in December said that about half the claims made on the Dr Oz Show were not supported by any evidence.

Oz has kept a rather low profile in light of his growing list of accusations. That’ll change this week when he takes his accusers to task via his own television programme. But such an epic public profile-salvaging mission is quite beyond the point now.

The exploitation of people’s natural fears over their health should never have been allowed to become the pawn of one man’s ego-driven crusade to a big money-pit of endorsements. With people relying on Google in place of a medical professional, dodgy advice is enough of a problem in the real world. It should have no place on public airwaves.

The majority of the medical world knows that Dr Oz’s effectiveness is about on par with the impact of green coffee-bean extract on weight loss. But in the world of television, ratings rule. Until some of those 1.8 million viewers start tuning out, those shaky medical claims look set to keep their home for now.

Ben Rylan is Monocle 24’s associate producer.

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