This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.
On Friday, The White House announced President Trump’s plans to appoint several new members to his Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition, which aims to encourage youth sports participation and promote overall physical fitness and health. The council is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
There were a few familiar names among the new appointments, including wrestler Kyle Frederick Snyder, former bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, and Olympian Misty May-Treanor. But one addition proved especially controversial: Mehmet Oz, author, and star of The Dr. Oz Show.
The inclusion of Dr. Oz took many in the health industry by surprise, especially those who have been following the TV star’s snake-oil antics over the last few years. Oz has been repeatedly called out for his support of false, deceptive products and unproven medical practices, both from the medical community and consumer watchdog groups. His appointment clearly speaks in no way to his reputation as a trusted medical source, but rather to his celebrity status–and the ability to parlay that into multiple business opportunities. Perhaps that’s what Trump, who has shown a preference for pundits over experts, finds appealing.
In 2014, a team of Canadian medical researchers found that only 46% of advice given on The Dr. Oz Show was actually backed by science, while 15% of recommendations went against conventional evidence. The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal BMJ. That same year, 10 doctors from prestigious institutions called for Columbia University to part ways with Oz, who at the time served as that school’s vice chair of the Department of Surgery.
“He’s a quack and a fake and a charlatan,” wrote Dr. Henry Miller of Stanford in the strongly worded takedown. “His advice endangers patients.” Over 1,300 doctors signed the letter in unison.
The celebrity physician was also grilled by a Senate subcommittee about his support of controversial weight-loss supplements, such as Garcinia cambogia. His show promised that the miracle pills required “No Exercise. No Diet. No Effort.”
“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. “When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show? . . . With power comes a great deal of responsibility.”
In his defense during the hearing, Dr. Oz said he provides hope–in the form of flowery language (albeit in lieu of facts). He went on to explain that he serves as a “cheerleader” for an audience and, that such enthusiasm sometimes takes him to “alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”
A few months ago I had a draft joke tweet saying Trump would appoint Dr. Oz as Surgeon General. I deleted it thinking it wasn’t satirical enough.
I hate being right sometimes.
— Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) May 4, 2018
In the last two years, Oz has become more known for his medical opinions of celebrity meltdowns and health scares, or ripped-from-the-headlines guests. During the presidential election, he invited then-candidate Donald Trump on his show to release his medical records, which were penned by Trump’s personal physician Dr. Harold Bornstein, whose practices were suspicious, if not laughable. Oz conveniently took the medical records at face value, despite their noticeably bizarre language. Bornstein has since claimed that Trump himself dictated the health letter.
Most recently, Oz weighed in on the Kanye West’s mental health, despite never having had a meaningful interaction with the rapper. Later this week, he’ll interview the woman who gouged her own eyes out while high on meth. I’ll leave you with this precisely worded episode summary:
“She made headlines when she gouged out her own eyes while high on meth. Now, in an Oz exclusive, Kaylee Muthart reveals why even though her vision is gone, she can see the true meaning of life. Plus, what’s lurking in your latte?”
Much like we saw on a larger scale in 2016, this is what happens when you favor celebrity over reputation.