How Accurate Is the Medical Advice on TV?
Research suggests most advice is not supported with facts
Posted Jun 16, 2017
"What do you think of Raspberry Ketones? The Day-Off Diet? Grapefruit Detox?" The questions flood in whenever Dr. Oz or any of the other TV docs announces the newest miracle weight loss cure.
Desperately chasing weight loss dreams, people grasp onto words like “miracle," especially when the promise involves a simple solution, such as taking a pill or using a cream. But is there any science behind the recommendations that TV doctors make?
A group of researchers from the University of Alberta investigated the claims made by TV doctors. They examined 40 episodes of The Dr. Oz Show and 40 episodes of The Doctors that aired in 2013 to determine the quality of the health recommendations made on these popular daytime medical talk shows. Specifically, they wanted to know what percentage of recommendations and claims were supported by scientific evidence. They used a team of experienced evidence reviewers to search the medical, academic, and scientific databases looking for evidence to support the recommendations made on the shows.
On average, each episode included 11 to 12 recommendations. The most common recommendations on Dr. Oz were dietary. Approximately 58 percent of the time, the recommendations made were non-specific (and not measurable because the claims were too general). In fact, a specific benefit was only mentioned for around 40 percent of the recommendations. The magnitude of benefit, potential harms, and costs were rarely mentioned (less than 20 percent of recommendations) and the shows almost never mentioned conflicts of interest (less than 1 percent) which may bias the show’s recommendations based on financial or other types of personal gain from promoting certain products.
The researchers found that 54 percent of the recommendations had some published evidence to support them. Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported 33 percent of the recommendations on The Dr. Oz Show and 53 percent of the recommendations on The Doctors. The researchers also found believable evidence against 11 percent of the recommendations on Dr. Oz and 13 percent of the recommendations on The Doctors. Approximately one in three of the recommendations on Dr. Oz and one in four of the recommendations on The Doctors could not be supported with any published evidence.
The authors of the study conclude that consumers should be skeptical of any recommendations provided on medical talk shows because details are limited and only one-third to one-half of all recommendations are based on believable or somewhat believable evidence.
Bottom line? Don't believe everything you hear. Especially when it comes to weight loss.
Korownyk Christina, Kolber Michael R, McCormack James, Lam Vanessa, Overbo Kate, Cotton Candra et al. Televised medical talk shows—what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study BMJ 2014; 349 :g7346