The new year is a chance for new beginnings, an opportunity to eat better, to take better care of ourselves; many look to popular media for ideas on how to best achieve these goals.
Dr. Oz dispenses such advice regularly on his TV show and many health related resolutions start with “I heard it on Dr. Oz”, but how sound are his recommendations?
A new study in the BMJ randomly selected 40 episodes of the Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors – the most popular medical talk shows on TV -- and looked at the quality of their recommendations.
If this sample is representative, Dr. Oz is the program for those asking what they should eat. Dietary advice was 4 times more common on Dr. Oz compared to The Doctors and of the 479 recommendations (about 12 per show) 40 percent were nutritional in nature.
Now came the arduous task of checking out the recommendations. The researchers looked to see if there was evidence to back the advice, if the advice was believable, and if the recommendation was given in a way in which it could be properly weighed: were both benefits, including their magnitude, and the treatment’s risk and costs mentioned.
The programs, rich in entertainment value and in dietary suggestions, fell short on proof and precision, the researchers found. Of the many recommendations, only a third were based on some believable evidence. On the other hand there was proof that the treatment didn’t work for about 1 in 10 recommendations. For a third of Oz’s recommendations no evidence at all could be found in the medical and scientific literature. As far as the advice goes, it was generally non-specific, the extent of the benefit (does vitamin E help brainpower a lot or a little?), the potential harm and the costs where rarely mentioned.
Last summer, Senator Claire McCaskill grilled Dr. Oz on Capitol Hill regarding false and misleading weight loss miracles endorsed on his program. In a written testimony to the US Senate Committee Dr. Oz explains:
“To make the Dr. Oz Show succeed in its mission, we have to overcome certain obstacles I learned in years of conversations with patients. We have to simplify complicated information. We have to make the material seem interesting and focus on the “wow” factor.”
And indeed, if you’re looking for “wow”, over-the-top enthusiasm, for inspiration and endless hope, TV shows such as those studied will supply you with plenty.
If you’re looking for practical, tested, realistic nutrition advice, look elsewhere, and unfortunately, that kind doesn't usually "wow".