I read in the NY Times that photos of Dr. Oz is now a favorite for magazine covers because women age 25-54 age bracket, the largest purchasers of magazines, find him “believable and trustworthy.” Dr. Oz has been on the cover of nearly all of the women’s magazines, in many cases as one of very few males to have this honor. The reason is clear. When his photo is on the cover of a magazine women buy more copies. When I see his web site or his TV show the topics covered and the flavor feels a lot more like Star, the tabloid at the grocery store checkout counter, than a source with authority or credibility.
As most of you know Dr. Oz broke into the American media limelight after Oprah Winfrey invited him to be on her show. Since 2009 he has had his own talk show, and he has inherited Oprah’s daytime slot in many markets. Dr. Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon, and although a cardiothoracic surgery residency and fellowship is extensive and rigorous it covers a very narrow scope of medicine. I doubt that many physicians or medical educators would consider training to be a cardiac surgeon the optimal background for giving general medical advice on everything from diet and exercise to cancer prevention and disease management. Yet this is just what Dr. Oz does. His shows rarely cover topics related to his training or expertise. I think a couple of quotes in the NY Times article explain why Dr. Oz is so popular:
“He’s not Robert Downey Jr./New York Fire Department-calendar sexy. He’s not exactly someone you lust after,” Ms. Fiala said. “But he’s safe and reassuring. You want to believe him because he looks good.” Undoubtedly the fact that Dr. Oz is an is attractive man plays a role in what makes him of interest to women in the target age range. You don’t see Dr. Phil, the other Oprah spin-off medical TV host selling women’s magazines.
“Whatever he would say, I would just follow that,” Ms. Feld said. “He’s an authority.” This is from a 23 year old publicist who is a loyal twitter follower of Dr. Oz.
Want to trust him as you may, I find the topics of his shows having more in common with the topics on the cover of Star or the National Enquirer than with any more believable sources. Here are a few of the headlines on his website at the time of this writing:
- 5-Layer Flat Belly Desert this decadent desert can help flatten your belly. Each of its 5 layers contains an added benefit to keep y0ur belly thin: I read the recipe and article. Nowhere does it explain the “belly fat” claim. The picture of the cake is really nice though, and if eating cake that looks like this would help me lose belly fat I’d be first in line to bake it. Sorry readers, it’s not that easy.
- Medium Vs. Medicine: Char Margolis Shares Afterlife Secrets: I looked at the first segment of this and it is good TV, but the PET scan referenced by Dr. Oz as “evidence” of mediums like Ms. Margolis seemed really lame; just a ploy to make the whole thing seem somehow “medical.”
- Quiz: The Super Powers of Coffee: Come on Dr. Oz. Maybe some of the recent data suggesting slight health benefits of coffee will hold up, but “Super Powers?” Really.
- Breakthroughs for Your Body Type: Another in the never ending series of unsubstantiated claims that specific exercises and diet changes will help you lose fat from specific areas of your body so you too can look as good as Dr. Oz and the trainers he has on his show.
From what I’ve seen Dr. Oz is a handsome surgeon and brilliant self-promoter who has found a way to use his MD degree and good looks to his advantage. He puts himself forth as an expert on a broad variety of medical topics that have no relationship to his training, and somehow comes across as believable to his target audience. Obviously that audience is not 50-something family physicians. Some of his advice is ordinary: eat healthy, exercise more, don’t smoke, etc. He has a strong bent toward supplements and alternative medicine mostly without much science to back the claims. Many of his topics trend to more sensational pieces, clearly presented as good TV, but should not be accepted as authoritarian. It seems to me that Dr. Oz has found the ideal time slot in afternoon TV, right alongside soap operas and game shows.
Dr. Oz has leveraged his good looks, his MD and his Oprah connection into credibility as an expert on everything related to health and medicine. His show and web site cover topics that are far from those a cardiothoracic surgeon has training and experience to be an expert. Dr. Oz really is a wizard in public relations, marketing and purportedly cardiothoracic surgery. On other topics you should look for advice elsewhere.