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When Giving Dietary Supplement Advice is Illegal…

Let’s say you’re a personal trainer in Palm Beach, Florida, and a client comes to you for advice on how to sculpt a lean, beach-ready body.  You know your client well, and advise him that he needs to recommit to his training regimen.  You also recommend that, based on your intake and assessment of his eating habits, he should supplement his diet with whey protein and creatine.  While not a state-licensed dietician, you have studied nutrition extensively and earned a private certification to give dietary advice.  You know from your training that protein and creatine are widely accepted as effective muscle-building supplements.  You charge your client a fair fee for his personal training sessions and for the nutritional supplement advice you provide.

Unfortunately, despite your wealth of knowledge on dietary needs, you’ve justcommitted a crime by advising your client on which supplements to take.  You are hit with the misdemeanor charge of engaging in unlicensed nutrition counseling, and you face up to a year in jail.  All this for doing your job—trying to improve a client’s health in a country where two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese!

Without a license, it is a crime in Florida to counsel people on their nutritional needs—regardless of certifications or experience.  Moreover, Florida’s Dietetic and Nutrition Council will soon propose a new regulation that would reiterate and emphasize that unlicensed nutritional counseling is a crime, regardless of whether the counselor calls herself a nutrition coach, weight loss coach, sports nutritionist, or similar term.  This regulation doesn’t technically forbid any additional behavior.  However, Judy Stone, Legislative Policy Director for the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (“CBNS”) in La Grange, Illinois describes it as a “shot across the bow” at practitioners who don’t have the required license in place.  The regulation will chill practitioners from using terms like “sports nutritionist” or “weight loss coach” even if they are engaged in purely legal activity.

Florida is not alone in its licensing requirements.  Twenty-three other states prohibit unlicensed nutrition counseling.  And according to Michael Stroka, Executive Director of CBNS, effectively only Registered Dieticians (“RD”) are eligible for licensure in eighteen of these states.  RDs are one group of practitioners knowledgeable about nutrition, but certainly not the only group.  RD-exclusive licensing creates a monopoly over the dietetics and nutrition field.  RDs can charge whatever prices they wish without having to worry about competition from other privately certified, highly qualified practitioners including those like CISSNs and CNSs, who are trained and certified by the International Society of Sports Nutrition and CBNS, respectively.  Even nutritionists with certifications more exacting than that of an RD can be excluded from practicing under this regime.

So if you’re wondering which supplements you should take to build muscle, lose weight, or increase energy, your options for advice may be limited by state law.  Your trusted, perfectly competent personal trainer may know the answer, but in many states, she’s legally forbidden from telling you.  Instead, you may have to find a licensed dietician you don’t even know and pay him a separate fee for the same advice.  And because RDs generally have little to no training in supplement use, you may not receive the guidance you seek.

If you’d like to know how your state regulates nutrition counseling, please visit the Center for Nutrition Advocacy’s website at http://www.nutritionadvocacy.org/.  And as always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about dietary supplements, please contact us any time at 516-294-0300.