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Charging for diet advice without license ruled illegal in some states, not protected by first amendment

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Giving health, including nutrition and dietary advice as a health coach is not speech protected by the First Amendment, a US federal judge has found.

The case was argued by Heather Del Castillo and the public-interest law firm Institute for Justice that represented her, Ars posted.

Del Castillo was running her business as a holistic health coach for two years, until 2017, when the Florida health department ordered her to shut it down for not being licensed under the Dietetics and Nutrition Practice Act (DNPA). She was also ordered to pay a fine.

Del Castillo, who has been certified as a nutritionist by an unaccredited online school, started her business in California – a state that doesn’t have this type of law or similar requirements – before moving to Florida.

Her legal representatives argued that states should not be allowed to require that health coaches giving nutritional advice must have licenses to practice medicine.

But Judge Casey Rogers found that states should have this right as a means of “promoting public health and safety” – adding, however, that Del Castillo can continue to advise on health-related issues, in her case nutrition – as long as she didn’t charge money for it.

Del Castillo’s lawyer Paul Sherman said his client would appeal the judgment, and accused occupational licensing boards of “acting as if the First Amendment doesn’t apply to them.”

The Institute for Justice, which the article described as a libertarian law firm, previously argued in court that Florida’s act requiring licensing was violating their client’s right to free speech, i.e., to offer advice on nutrition. They also said that the law was giving those who have been licensed a monopolistic position.

Given the different legal requirements in different states, and across different countries, and the dismissal of the First Amendment argument in the US, it’s unclear how the ruling may affect the online health coaching industry, which has been taking off recently as a lucrative field.

As things stand now, most online health coaches seem to also be obtaining their certification online – but certification is not the same as licensing, as the Florida case has demonstrated. What is certain is that the industry is currently riddled with inconsistent regulation.

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