Research Review Finds Little Support for Nearly Half of Medical Talk Show Recommendations

Medical talk shows are currently one of the hottest types of talk shows. The shows, usually hosted by people with some degree of medical expertise, offer health advice to viewers in an engaging format. Often the shows focus on hot health topics like weight loss, beauty products, and miracle foods or pills. These shows have demonstrated an ability to affect health consumer behaviors through spikes in purchases of certain supplements, health programs, and books published by show hosts.
Researchers from Canada wanted to determine the quality of health recommendations made on popular medical talk shows. The study, published in The British Medical Journal, found that the shows often lack sufficient information on specific benefits or the full effects of health products or behavior change.

About the Study

Investigators randomly selected 40 episodes of each of The Doctor Oz Show and The Doctors from 2013. They identified and evaluated all the recommendations made on each show. A group of experienced reviewers searched for medical research evidence to support the 80 randomly selected recommendations from each show.
The study found that approximately half of the recommendations made on the shows had either no evidence or the recommendation was contradicted by the best available medical research evidence. The study found that for The Doctor Oz Show medical research:
  • Supported 46% of claims
  • Contradicted 15% of claims
  • Did not exist to support or contradict for 39% of claims
The study found that for The Doctors medical research:
  • Supported 63% of claims
  • Contradicted 14% of claims
  • Did not exist to support or contradict 24% of claims
Furthermore, potential conflicts of interest, (example: researchers financially compensated by company of products that were being tested), were rarely revealed on the show.

How Does This Affect You?

The conclusions from this trial were determined by a literature review of high quality medical research from a variety of sources. The exact recommendation delivered by the shows was determined by medical experts that watched a series of shows. The researchers admitted this is where some misunderstanding may occur because many of the shows recommendations weren't clear on what they were saying compared to what they are implying. Because there was some interpretation, a reviewers bias may interfere with the outcome, however, the study took some steps to reduce bias by using more than one reviewer and having separate people complete research than those who determined what recommendations were being made.
Talk shows originated as an entertainment medium and entertainment is still their main objective. It is important to question the validity of the advice given on medical talk shows. At a minimum, poor recommendation may result in wasted money but some recommendation may affect your overall health or well being. Contact your doctor if you are interested in the advice given on a talk show. Your doctor should have access to larger bodies of research and can discuss whether evidence supports the claim and if it is a viable health option for you.

RESOURCES

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality http://www.ahrq.gov

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians http://familydoctor.org

References

Korownyk Christina, Kolber Michael R, et al. Televised medical talk shows—what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study. BMJ 2014; 349:g7346. Available at: http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g7346. Accessed January 8, 2015.

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