THE BLOG
06/30/2014 05:19 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2016

A Snake Oil Salesman Alive and Well in Dr. Oz

I was born a skeptic, and that is to my advantage. I don't buy products based on someone's glowing claims of success. Even as a woman who has always been looking to "lose a few pounds," I never bought into the absurdness of miracle diets or gurus. There are none. No pills, no magic beans, no quick fixes. So you can imagine my disappointment in a man, a medical doctor, who pushes "miracle" products to his viewers.

When his show first came on the air, I used to watch Dr. Mehmet Oz for his decent factual health tips. He is, after all, a personable man with a charming way of winning over his audience, and his medical knowledge was on target. But I quickly became disillusioned with him because of my skepticism.
When he began touting "miracle diets," I began to see him very differently: a charming, well-spoken modern day snake oil salesman who shills for fake products.

Because of the high rates of true obesity in our country, it has become popular to hawk the latest diets and diet products, and Dr. Oz has happily jumped on the bandwagon in doling out "professional advice" to his legions of fans, the majority of whom are women. The fact that the camera pans closely on his audience of adoring, screaming women whenever he utters a prophetic sentence is no accident. The PR doctrine here is crystal clear: Look at how wonderful this man is! Look at how he understands us! Come on women, this man is a god!

Most people were brought up to believe that doctors, most especially male doctors, are gods. Health and remedies, life and death were in the hands of your doctor. So when Mehmet Oz tells you that raspberry ketones, green coffee extract, and garcinia camboja are miracle weight loss fixes, his audience eats it up. Hey, he's a doctor, why would he mislead us?

Why? For the same reason the snake oil salesman of old mislead his audience: some type of profit.

In Dr. Oz's case, the profit may not be monetary (no evidence has yet been found that he has gained financially for his shill). His profit is one that adds to his celebrity status. In other words, Mehmet Oz is more media star than medical doctor, and it has gone to his head. In his own words, he has said:

My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience, and when they don't think they have hope, when they don't think they can make it happen, I want to look, and I do look everywhere, including in alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them.

The weight loss industry is notorious for false advertising and fake claims and Dr. Oz, boyishly appealing with an M.D., is their perfect salesman. His endorsements of raspberry ketones, the bean from green coffee extract, and garcinia camboja sound way too much like professionally scripted infomercials. Witness his energetic statement concerning green coffee extract.

You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found the magic weight-loss for every body type.

Needless to say sales of this "little bean" jumped due to the doc's persuasive flowery language, a way of speaking to his audience that he hotly defends.

Oz has argued that he has to be "passionate" to engage his viewers and, that while he recognizes his claims (for the products) may not have the scientific muster to pass as fact, when he can't use "language that is flowery, that is exulting, I feel like I've been disenfranchised." He feels disenfranchised? Wow! What about his audience? They are being duped by someone they deemed not only knowledgeable but trustworthy.

We have too many celebrities with pseudo-medical knowledge more than willing to dupe the public and shill sometimes harmful products. One only has to look at Suzanne Somers and her "medical knowledge" of potentially dangerous and expensive bio-identical hormones.

As for someone with Dr. Oz's medical knowledge and expertise, we expect, and should demand, truth and not hype.

© 2014 copyright Kristen Houghton