"Mehmet has always been a great guy," says Michelle Bouchard, who has been a friend since 1980. "But I remember being struck by the fact that he was always so focused. He has always been a man on a mission."
Since 2008, Bouchard has helped further Oz's mission by serving as president of HealthCorps, a nonprofit he founded to fight obesity and foster mental resilience among U.S. schoolchildren. Modeled on the Peace Corps, the organization hires recent college graduates for two-year stints in schools, where they educate students, teachers, and administrators on healthy habits. Already, students in HealthCorps schools are drinking less soda and exercising more, one study showed. The agency's $5 million budget includes grants from the Kellogg Foundation and the City of New York.
HealthCorps currently serves 50 schools in 9 states, with plans to be in all 50 states by 2013. But Oz's long-term goal, Bouchard says, is to make Americans' behavior so much healthier that HealthCorps is no longer necessary. "He is spawning a political and social movement," she says.
Another prong in Oz's attack on ill health is the series of bestsellers he writes with Michael Roizen, M.D., chair of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. Starting with YOU: The Owner's Manual in 2005, Oz and Roizen have published six YOU books on various aspects of health.
"I couldn't think of a better writing partner than Mehmet," says Roizen. Oz makes information "positive and playful and really succinct," he says. But despite the playfulness—Oz is famous for his practical jokes, which include once rigging a raw turkey to spout fake blood when his mother cut into it—he's all business when there's writing to be done. "He tolerates no downtime," Roizen says. "If I start to tell a joke that isn't a joke for the book, he'll say, 'Mike, stay on point.' Every movement has an intent to get to a specific place."
Oz also advocates for healthful policies, testifying before Congress about how integrative medicine could help rein in health care costs. A Republican himself, Oz says no health care reform, whether from the left or the right, can succeed unless Americans transform their lifestyle to avoid the diabetes, heart disease, and other preventable ailments that cripple the country financially as well as physically. Says Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland): "Dr. Oz is one of the most influential people out there promoting health care and sound living." She calls him "the surgeon general of the airwaves."
Of course, Oz's main platform these days is his show, which he tapes across the hall from where Jimmy Fallon tapes NBC's Late Night. Viewers come to Dr. Oz for the pop quizzes, exercise tips, and other light segments, but also for the drama of the "truth tube"—a corner of the set where a guest's weight, blood pressure, and other health numbers are posted. Oz uses these stats to confront the guest and offer to help change unhealthful habits. And the changes work: he put one meat-loving 53-year-old cowboy named Rocco on a vegan diet and reversed his diabetes in 28 days.
The doctor follows his own orders for healthy living, and it shows, both in the slender frame he reveals in close-fitting surgical scrubs and in his seemingly boundless energy—"electrifying vitality," as Diane Sawyer puts it. His diet features fruits and veggies, grains, and lean protein. (Raw nuts soaked in water, in the Turkish style, are a staple.) He does transcendental meditation regularly and says his 20-year habit of daily yoga is "the most important health practice I have adopted."