Santa Brings Coal for Snake Oil Salesmen: FTC and BMJ Call BS on Sensa, The Doctors and Doctor Oz

Call it a holiday gift.  This week I’ve come across TWO scathing reprimands of bogus weight loss profiteering and frankly it fills me with holiday glee.

First, I learned that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have sent refund checks totaling over $26 Million to people who bought the “weight-loss supplement” known as Sensa.  I remember the first time I saw this dubious substance.  A friend of mine smiled gleefully as she sprinkled this “magic powder” on her food.  “It will make me skinny!” she said.  “All I do is sprinkle this on my food and I will eat less and lose weight!”  I frankly could not imagine how this powder, purchased at Target would help her eat less.  Perhaps, I thought, if it made the food taste really bad, you know like that substance you paint on your nails to keep from biting them?

But Sensa advertising suggested another mechanism for their magic powder.  The advertising suggested that Sensa enhanced the taste and smell of the food, thus making eaters enjoy the food more, thus allowing them to feel full faster and stop eating sooner.  And then, they lose weight.

“Huh.  That’s a neat trick,” I thought.

Turns out the FTC thinks my skepticism was warranted.  The FTC complaint states that the manufacturers of Sensa provided no credible scientific evidence for the weight loss claims for Sensa.  In addition, the complaint states that Sensa’s manufacturers failed to disclose that they paid customers to endorse the product and that they doctored up a supposedly independent study.

And speaking of doctors, that leads me to my second early holiday gift.  A study recently released in the British Medical Journal calls out US television shows The Doctors and The Doctor Oz Show for spreading bogus and sometimes downright dangerous health information.  This is yet another crushing blow for Dr. Oz, who actually spent time in front of a Congressional committee explaining why he felt it was okay to tell the American public for instance, that green coffee beans would make them skinny.  He was asked to explain his various Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir-like substances that served as medical miracles that simply melted the fat away.

The British Medical Journal study called out the antics of these modern snake-oil salesmen, suggesting that roughly half of the medical advice offered on The Doctors and The Doctor Oz Show was either not supported by medical science or directly contradicted by prevailing scientific evidence.

The study abstract states:

We could find at least a case study or better evidence to support 54% (95% confidence interval 47% to 62%) of the 160 recommendations (80 from each show). 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.

The study also explains that this is significant for US healthcare because “television is one of the most important mass media sources of health information.”  It notes that The Dr. Oz Show with it’s position as one of the top 5 American talk shows has the reach to do a whole lot of good.  Unfortunately, Dr. Oz frequently peddles bogus weight loss cures and consistently fails to provide any information regarding conflict of interest.  So, yeah.  Snake oil salesmen are having a rough week.

To be clear, the thing I’m taking out of this as my holiday gift is not that the Snake Oil Salesmen–Purveyors of Powders and Magic Beans exist or that they are so very good at their jobs.  I am simply doing a little holiday dance of glee on the multimillion dollar payout and credible medical journal smackdown these guys are receiving right now.  Just a little coal in their holiday stockings. Ho. Ho. HO!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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