Many TV shows (like Dr. Oz and The Doctors) claim to give solid medical advice, based on scientific evidence. But a new study has found that about half of all recommendations given on those TV shows are actually bogus, with either no scientific evidence to back them up, or even worse – being contradicted by scientific evidence.

“I’ve never sold supplements” – Dr. Oz. Image credits: CNN.

Christina Korownyk, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta and her colleagues set out to analyze the quality of health recommendations and claims made on popular medical talk shows. For this purpose, they analyzed two of the most popular such shows, Dr. Oz and The Doctors. Investigators randomly selected 40 episodes from both shows from 2013 and evaluated all the recommendations given.

A group of experienced evidence reviewers independently searched for, and evaluated as a team, evidence to support 160 claims from these episodes. The results were pretty shocking – almost half of recommendations had nothing to back them up… or even worse.

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“For recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%. For recommendations in The Doctors, evidence supported 63%, contradicted 14%, and was not found for 24%. Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported 33% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and 53% on The Doctors. On average, The Dr Oz Show had 12 recommendations per episode and The Doctors 11”, researchers write in the paper, which was published in The BMJ.

This reminds us once again that there’s a reason why these shows are labeled ‘entertainment’, and not ‘medical advice’ – you should only take medical advice from doctors or qualified people. Sure, Dr. Oz was a surgeon, but he now works in television, and his show is a business, not a doctor’s office. This is the first time the quality and validity of health claims on those shows was quantified, and the results are not looking too good.

“Two reviewers independently watched each randomly selected episode to document the topics discussed and the specific details surrounding recommendations. To focus on stronger or clearer recommendations for the evidence review portion of the analysis, the reviewers attempted to delineate the more definitive recommendations. This was based on both the strength of the wording (for example, “Get your kids vaccinated” was considered a strong recommendation, whereas “Prescription retin-A helps with ear and other types of acne” was not) and the context in which the recommendation was made (for example, a recommendation may have been classified as strong if it was repeated multiple times)”, the paper continues.

It’s not the first time Dr. Oz has come under fire for claims made on his show. In June this year, he admitted the ‘Miracle Diet Products’ he advocates are pseudoscience, and just a couple of months ago, and scientists retracted previously published research backing up weigh-loss pills endorsed by Dr. Oz.

Researchers underline that TV is one of  the main sources of information (even medical information) for the general population, and the ones doing the shows should be more responsible with the kind of information they air out. However, they also acknowledge the fact that due to the inherent complexity of the shows, there is a certain subjectivity between what was said and what was implied.

“Consumers should be skeptical about any recommendations provided on television medical talk shows, as details are limited and only a third to one half of recommendations are based on believable or somewhat believable evidence. An interesting question is whether we should expect medical talk shows to provide more than entertainment. Future studies may be directed at determining what viewers hope to obtain from watching these shows, and if the airing of these shows results in behavior changes related to specific recommendations. If the shows are perceived as providing medical information or advice, viewers need to realize that the recommendations may not be supported by higher evidence or presented with enough balanced information to adequately inform decision making”, they conclude.

You can read the full article here.