As you might have heard, Oprah Winfrey launched her own TV network on New Year’s Day. OWN (the initials stand for Oprah Winfrey Network) took over Discovery Health Channel’s slot with cable providers, and will offer around-the-clock programming designed to teach viewers how to “live your best life.” As Winfrey recently said in the pages of O, her glossy magazine, “My goal in life is to live out the truest expression of myself as a human being.”
There are many areas in which Winfrey has had an enormously positive impact. As someone who makes his living from writing, I’m grateful (and slightly in awe) of anyone who can inspire loyalists to buy and read books as challenging as Freedom, Anna Karenina, Middlesex, and The Sound and the Fury. Her current ubiquity makes it easy to forget how groundbreaking it was for an African-American woman to become arguably the most powerful media figure in the world. She’s donated time, prestige, and money to an incredible range of worthwhile charities. And she’s teamed up with HBO and Alan Ball to make the film version of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — which is particularly awesome because of how incredible both Rebecca and her book are.
There is one rather conspicuous area in which Winfrey’s impact has been overwhelmingly negative: science and health. This is a subject I’ve spent a lot of time researching, writing, and thinking about over the past two years: The airtime Oprah gave to Jenny McCarthy’s claims about how vaccines damaged her son have done more to legitimize the anti-vaccine movement over the last three years than anything else. (In The Panic Virus, I describe Winfrey’s approach to health and wellness as “medical NIMBYism and faith-based metaphysics.”)
It doesn’t look like Winfrey’s going to be paying any closer attention to the difference between real science and quackery now that she has her own network: On Wednesday, a Discovery Health holdover titled “Mystery Diagnosis” airs for the first time on OWN*; according to press releases, “Each episode will feature two patients that through countless physical examinations can not interpret what ails them but through their own personal will, they strive to live healthy and content lives.” Dr. Oz also has his own show — and it’s still unclear (to me, anyway) what the ultimate result of the development deal McCarthy signed with Oprah last spring will be.
In honor of OWN’s launch, I want to collect the ten most outrageous medical/health claims Winfrey has made over the years. There’s plenty to choose from (remember Suzanne Somers’s claim that she’s able to trick her body in believing it’s younger than it is by injecting hormones into her vagina?) — so send them along either by messaging me at @sethmnookin on Twitter or emailing me with the subject line “Oprah’s Top 10.” I’ll run the results sometime in the next few weeks.
* I’d initially written that the show was premiering on OWN; as brilliant reader Karin pointed out, “Mystery Diagnosis” was actually a Discovery Health mainstay.