Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dr. Oz's Magic Pills: Debunking worth a hill of beans?

Even Harvard-educated heart surgeons indulge in pseudoscience from time to time. Sometimes they get away with it and sometimes they don't. Just ask Dr. Mehmet Oz, the 2014 Emmy Award-winning talk show host and sometimes heart surgeon who recently testified before a Senate subcommittee on dietary supplements - "magic beans" and "lightning in a bottle" to Dr. Oz and fans. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) implored Oz to explain how a man of science could justify touting the benefits of "miracle" pills without any relevant scientific evidence.

Good question.

How could a famous, telegenic, charismatic, well-connected, Emmy-award winning New York doctor of impeccable academic and professional credentials with a beautiful family and enormous national audience shill suspect diet pills? 

Because he cares about you. He loves you. He wants the best for you:
"My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience, and when they don't think they have hope, when they don't think they can make it happen, I want to look, and I do look everywhere, including in alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them," Oz said. via CNN
Cue the media. The LA Times. CNN. ABC. The Atlantic. HuffPo. Gawker. John Oliver....

I welcome any debunking of health and medical claims. I welcome any fact-checking. But I also have to muse at the brohaha over these lame supplements and tv doctor. 

And I'm just plain jealous. All that attention. John Oliver. Very jealous. 

What would it take for a similar take-down of children's health claims. Especially advice that might really and truly negatively impact a child or family? What's a few dollars spent on lame supplements? Dr. Oz spews all kinds of nonsense on his show and he should be held accountable but who cares about the pills if it they're really harmless, placebos even?

What about the countless claims parents encounter? 

For instance, just yesterday I got into yet another discussion with friends about early puberty, aka the notion girls get their first periods earlier than ever, a largely unsupported hypothesis that has taken root in the public and professional imagination. Yes, there is some preliminary (though limited) evidence breast development is occurring earlier than in previous decades but there is scant evidence of earlier menstruation. I've written about it here. 

What are the consequences of believing girls are menstruating at increasingly younger ages? I don't know, maybe it fuels anxiety in general, cancer fears more specifically. Maybe it increases the sale of organic milk. Can you think of other possible impacts? I suspect it doesn't help anyone to go around worrying early puberty and yet I haven't seen much debunking on that front. One reason might be that many pediatricians seem to subscribe to the earlier menstruation theory or at least that has been my sense from talking to health professionals over the years. 

So here's your summer assignment. Ask your children's pediatrician about early puberty. Do they believe it? Earlier menstruation in particular. Let me know. And if John Oliver mentions it, please tell me. I'd love to see him debunk that one. Big Tampax and all.

What would you like to see debunked this summer?

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