It’s undeniable that nutrition is one of the most important aspects of health and fitness. With so much contradicting information on what foods we should be putting into our bodies, many people often turn to the trainers and fitness experts they trust most. Affiliates and health coaches across the world have successfully lead weight loss challenges and educated countless members in their quests for a better lifestyle. Can anyone argue that this is a bad thing?
So, what would happen if that knowledge and the distribution of it were restricted? That’s exactly what happened to a Florida health coach, Heather Kokesch Del Castillo, who was fined $750 by the Florida Department of Health for offering services and nutritional counseling to clients without a license. This CrossFit Level 2 trainer was a privately certified health coach who had a successful business in California. After making a cross country, military-related move, from California (where nutrition speech is protected) to Florida (where it is restricted). Heather not only fell victim to a hefty fine but was also forced to shut down her business after getting “caught” in a sting operation conducted by the Florida Department of Health. Even wilder was the fact that she was threatened with jail time.
Heather later filed a lawsuit against the department, working with the Institute of Justice (IJ), a team advocating on her behalf and challenging the law. Despite this, the judge ruled that licensing requirements would stay the same, “on the basis that Heather’s advice was “conduct” not “speech” and therefore was exempt from First Amendment protections. According to the Institute for Justice’s website, the first amendment should protect Heather’s right to distribute nutritional advice to people, yet occupational licensing laws are blocking this freedom of speech and translating it to “conduct.”
Initially, AND argued that they sought to restrict nutritional speech only for advice given on medical conditions such as diabetes and obesity. “If they’re talking about wellness and general nutrition, that would not be affected,” said Pepin Tuma, an academy spokesman. This case shows that is not the case.
Heather is by no means alone in fighting this issue. Licensure laws have paved the way for the restriction of nutritional speech in at least 12 U.S. states.
This further begs the question: why is nutritional speech protected in some states and who decides what information should be shared? One answer is an organization called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the lobbying body for registered dietitians.
So, what gives? Does the security of licensing actually protect consumers and improve the safety and quality of nutritional advice offered?
The judge in the case against Heather failed to cite any reports or studies that confirm this idea. Or, is this more of an issue rooted in financial support? In a recent conference put on by AND, it was found that many of their financial supports were companies pushing products in direct conflict to what most ‘unlicensed nutritionists’ are advocating against; companies like PepsiCo and Nestle, for example. Not exactly advocates of health and wellness.
To make matters worse, AND has given continuing education credits to attendees of Coke sponsored courses that were found teaching things like “aspartame is safe, and sugar is not bad for children.” Not very comforting information dispersed by the organization solely in charge of distributing nutritional information and restricting the ability of others to do the same.
Imagine if the only nutritional advice you could get is from someone speaking on behalf of AND.
This particular case highlights the reality that our access to valuable information regarding nutrition is being limited by special interest groups that don’t necessarily have our best interest in mind. Who’s to say that someone well ingrained in fitness culture and training, doesn’t have useful wisdom and counsel as it relates to nutrition. And, why not leave that choice up to the consumer?
The Institute for Justice plans to appeal Del Castillo’s decision, along with the support of CrossFit, Inc.
According to CrossFit Inc. they will “continue to fight to protect its affiliates’ and trainers’ rights to speak freely about the foundational elements of the CrossFit methodology and human health.”