How Accurate Are Medical Talk Shows?

It’s pretty common that I get asked various health and fitness questions – and this is likely true of most fitness professionals – that begin with the words “Doctor Oz says…” or “I saw on the Doctors…” And, most of the time, this puts me in an awkward situation because I usually disagree with the advice being dispensed on medical talk shows. But, since I don’t regularly watch those shows and definitely don’t research each and every claim they make, I’m not exactly fair or unbiased.

A new review published in the British Medical Journal, however, took the time to do exactly that. For the article, a team of researchers randomly selected 40 episodes of The Dr Oz Show and 40 episodes of The Doctors. Every recommendation from each episode was then isolated. Of the resulting pool of recommendations, 80 were then randomly selected from each show. The team then went to work evaluating the research on each of those 160 recommendations to conclude whether the science supported the claims, contradicted them or was simply non-existent.


The Results

Taken as one large sample, the talk shows did not stand up well under scientific scrutiny. Of all 160 recommendations made on the two shows combined, only 54 percent of those claims actually had science to support them. But the paper also looked at each show individually.

For The Dr Oz Show, the evidence supported about 46 percent of his recommendations, contradicted 15 percent and simply did not exist for the final 39 percent. The paper also reports that Dr. Oz makes about 12 recommendations per episode on average. Lower quality evidence, termed either “believable or somewhat believable,” was found for 33 percent of the claims made by Dr. Oz.

The Doctors had slightly better results – but it was a very small advantage. A total of 63 percent of their recommendations had solid scientific backing, 14 percent were opposed by the research and the remaining 24 percent had no related studies to be found. However, 53 percent of the Doctors’ recommendations could be tied to believable or somewhat believable evidence.

It’s also worth noting that any potential conflicts of interest were disclosed only .4 percent of the time, between both shows.


 The Take-Away

Clearly, then, medical talk shows don’t seem to fair well when placed under scientific analysis. Although a 15 percent error rate might not seem like much, think about it this way: That equates to 12 incorrect recommendations made in every 80 – the sample size. On average, Doctor Oz makes 12 recommendations each episode. This means that, statistically speaking, one entire episode of The Doctor Oz Show could be incorrect.

The numbers work out about the same for The Doctors, as well.

Of course, there’s still the fact that over half of the information provided on these two medical talk shows is correct; It’s not all bad. But the paper rightly concludes by saying, “The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.”

Instead of taking the recommendations presented on medical talk shows as absolute truth, then, allow it to be your starting point. If you hear something that piques your interest, do your own research.






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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.