No “Freedom Of Speech” To Give Dangerous Health Advice

Ars Technica – A federal court on Wednesday rejected claims by an unlicensed “health coach” that the unqualified health advice she provided to paying clients was protected speech under the First Amendment.

In rejecting her claim, the court affirmed that states do indeed have the right to require that anyone charging for health and medical services—in this case, dietetics and nutrition advice—be qualified and licensed. (State laws governing who can offer personalized nutrition services vary considerably, however.)

Heather Del Castillo, a “holistic health coach” based in Florida, brought the case in October of 2017 shortly after she was busted in an undercover investigation by the state health department.

At the time, Del Castillo was running a health-coaching business called Constitution Nutrition, which offered a personalized, six-month health and dietary program.

The program involved 13 in-home consulting sessions, 12 of which cost $95 each.

Under a Florida state law called the Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Act (DNPA), anyone offering such services needs to be qualified and licensed to protect against bogus advice that could cause significant harms.

Those qualifications include having a bachelor’s or graduate degree in a relevant field, such as nutrition, from an accredited institution; having at least 900 hours of education or experience approved by the state’s Board of Medicine; and passing the state’s licensing exam.

Del Castillo had completed none of those things. Her only credential for providing health services was a certificate from an unaccredited, for-profit online school called the Institution for Integrative Nutrition. Otherwise, she had a bachelor’s degree in geography and a master’s in education.

When Del Castillo founded her company in 2015, she was living in California, which has no such licensing laws for “health coaches.”

But she continued her business when she moved to Florida, advertising her services in a magazine called Natural Awakenings of Northwest Florida, on Facebook, and through flyers.

Health rights

After getting a tip that Del Castillo was practicing without a license, the health department opened an investigation and had an investigator pose as a potential customer over email.

Del Castillo took the bait and the health department issued a cease-and-desist order and made her pay a $500 fine and around $250 in fees … Read more. 

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