Can You Trust Your Television Doctor?


Gavin Gibbons

Published on
July 6, 2010

The economy may be down but the television doctor business is booming these days. You can’t turn the channel with out bumping into characters like The Doctors or Dr. Oz. It was only last week that both programs took home Daytime Emmy Awards. The Doctors won an Emmy for best informative talk show, while Dr. Mehmet Oz won for best talk show host.
But is what's good for the syndicated television business good for public health? Regrettably, after watching some recent programs, it’s pretty clear that the answer is no.

Readers of this blog know we’ve had a beef with Dr. Oz and some of his quasi-science for quite some time now...We've more or less been sending him letters about his January 2010 program on fish and mercury for months, only to get a perfunctory answer from his lawyer instead of real medical answers to our legitimate questions that are based on independent science. 

More recently, we sent a letter to the producers of The Doctors after Dr. Travis Stork made an uninformed offhand comment about fish and mercury that could lead the audience to believe advice specifically targeted at women who are pregnant was meant for the overall population. After about three weeks, we're still waiting for an answer.

And how about that bastion of informed science The View, the talk show produced by long-time ABC television personality Barbara Walters. Last week, the program had Jeremy Piven on as a guest, and when it did, the hosts simply sat back and let the actor repeat his scientifically unsound charges about fish and mercury without asking any hard questions. In response, NFI sent a letter to Patrick Ignozzi, the program's Senior Producer, asking for an opportunity to talk to the program about Piven's comments in an effort to correct the record.

Ignozzi simply didn't respond. Instead, producers chose to have Dr. Steven Lamm, the program's in-house doctor, on to answer a question from the hosts about Piven's claims. Lamm walked down the same road Stork did on The Doctors, claiming that mercury in fish is something the entire population needs to be concerned about, despite the fact the the FDA has said, "for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a concern."

So what's the lesson here? When you're looking for sound advice, perhaps it's better to shut off the television and talk to a doctor or dietitian.

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