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Is It Illegal to Give Diet Advice?

By Ceylan Pumphrey, Esq. on May 31, 2019

Part of Heather Del Castillo's job as a health coach was providing tips on natural eating. While this was fine for her to do in California, in Florida, her title as "health coach" didn't qualify her to give dieting advice. In fact, Florida officials fined her $750 and sent her a cease-and-desist order because she was working without a license. Del Castillo sued, claiming that her right to free speech was violated.

Health Coaches vs. Registered Dietitians

A person generally doesn't need any formal training to become a health coach. Instead, they can get certificates from various programs, and advise their clients on how to achieve health goals through lifestyle changes. In contrast, a person must go through months of supervised practice and pass a national exam in order to become a registered dietitian. In order to maintain their status, they must also take continuing education courses. Like health coaches, dietitians can also give advice on how to achieve health goals. Additionally, their training enables them to advise clients on how to manage chronic diseases or medical problems.

The problem is that state laws vary, with some requiring licenses for people that want to use titles like "dietitian" or "nutritionist," and others that don't have any rules. In Florida, the dietary practice is restricted to licensed individuals.

Free Speech vs. Professional Licensing

The Institute for Justice, which took up Del Castillo's case, argues that dietary advice should be protected as free speech, regardless of the context. It says that food and health advice is found everywhere, and the law in Florida gives monopoly to certain individuals.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, on the other hand, says that "Del Castillo's lawsuit poses a threat to other licensing laws that protect public health." The Academy notes that it supports dietary licensing laws when it comes to giving advice on medical conditions, like obesity and diabetes. Florida said in its court filings that its dietary licensing law protects people from incompetent advice.

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