Oz mostly offers good advice, with the added authority of his medical degree. Which means when he markets a basic diet or an untested alternative treatment as a fat-burning miracle, it’s even more difficult for his audience of fitness newbies to assess the difference between good advice and hyperbole.
The magazine’s ads are more troubling; like the editorial content, ads skew towards ‘healthy living’ products, like GNC Total Lean—shakes that purport to help people shed pounds “even when there’s no time to lose”—and tablets of chromium picolinate, which supposedly provide “metabolism support.” While his show’s site encourages viewers to turn in misleading avertisements that suggest Oz’s endorsement by using his name, several of the ads in the magazine throw his name around, without making clear if he’s behind the products. (And why wouldn’t they, with a name that can launch 1,000 neti pots.) Select Nutrition, a company selling supplements, green tea, and sunscreen, directs readers to a special purchasing page: “www.selectnutrition.com/DrOz2.” And “AskMD,” an app version of WebMD, is described in an advertisement as “Dr. Oz’s favorite new app.” As it turns out, both Oz and Hearst are invested in the platform, which a communications official called “way more than a symptom checker” in a Hearst press release. “How do we put Dr. Oz’s exam room in the pocket of everyone in the country, and eventually, the world?” the release continues. It’s a frightening idea that a reader might associate an app as equivalent to a visit to a physical exam room (the ad itself advises readers to use it in consultation with their doctor).
Nonetheless, none of these relationships are clarified in the ad, a particular concern in the land of magazines, where editorial treatment is often given to advertisers without disclosure, as opposed to television, where ‘pay for play’ is banned, overseen by the FCC. In response to questions about The Good Life’s editorial policy, a spokesperson sent a statement: “The magazine brand advocates a healthy lifestyle, recommending a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, and we feature products and strategies that support that.” (Editor Jill Herzig did not return an email.)
After Dr. Oz’s Senate testimony last week, much of the vitriol initially launched at Oz finally settled on the Federal Trade Commission for failing to introduce product regulation to weed out the snake oil from the pack. (“Dr. Oz is just a symptom of the problem,” said John Oliver in his takedown.) It’s a similar problem in magazines: It’s unethical but not illegal for The Good Life to make lofty claims about diets or to run confusing advertisements. But by failing to draw clear lines between what is hyperbole and what is good advice (and what is an endorsed product and what is simply an ad) the magazine sets an unnerving precedent. Hopefully future issues will proceed with more caution and include a website where the comments section can allow readers to endorse the good and debunk the overplayed. After all, snake oil doesn’t sell unless someone charismatic is hawking it.