Protecting Us From The Kooks, Quacks, and Frauds

In my years as a school principal, I learned the importance of not overreacting to the first version of events brought to my attention.  In every contentiImageous situation, there are always two sides to the story.

And sometimes, there’s even a third.

Like many of you, I read an article this week in the Carolina Journal Online about Steve Cooksey, a nutrition blogger known as the Diabetes Warrior.  As the story goes, Mr. Cooksey publicly took a Registered Dietician to task for allegedly providing nutritionally unsound advice at a talk given for people with diabetes.  After distributing his own business cards and directing people to his website, Mr. Cooksey was investigated by the North Carolina Board of Dietitics/Nutrition (NCBDN) for providing nutritional advice without a license.

I resisted the emotional impulse to immediately jump to his defense, because I’ve also learned through painful experience that the world is filled with kooks, quacks, and frauds.  There always have been, and always will be, people more interested in taking your money than they are in taking care of you.

For all I knew, this Cooksey guy could have been one of those kooks.

So I checked out his blog, and in particular, I went to look at the assessment given by the Director of the NCBDN.

I think it’s all a little fuzzy whether or not he’s done anything that can be construed as dispensing nutritional advice without a license (which is kind of a fuzzy regulation itself).  Now, I would agree – statements such as, “Honestly, he needs to get off the ‘carb up and shoot up’ treatment plan” certainly can be considered direct counsel, and perhaps even a suggestion to get off medication.  I don’t think it’s a very strong case, but the NCBDN could make one.

But a comment like, “Your friend must first and foremost obtain and maintain normal blood sugars” doesn’t strike me as medical assessment and advice.  It strikes me as true.  I mean, seriously… can anyone tell me that it’s a good idea for diabetics to have unstable blood sugar?  Do you really need a license to state the obvious?  The fact that the director of the board went out of her way to single out this comment and argue that this was controversial leads me to believe there is another agenda at work entirely – one aimed at complete control over who has the right to help people make decisions about their food choices.

And that agenda is a dangerous one on two fronts.  The first, of course, has to do with our rights as citizens in a free society – where does the right to free speech end when dispensing opinions about how we should eat?  I really found it troubling that the NCBDN was considering pursuing legal action that could land Steve Cooksey in jail.  I went to the Board’s website to learn more and found this notice had been posted:

The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition has a duty to investigate all complaints that it receives. On January 13, 2012 a written complaint was submitted to the NCBDN alleging that Steve Cooksey was providing nutrition care services in North Carolina without a license. Mr. Cooksey is not a licensed dietician/nutritionist in the state of North Carolina. On January 18, 2012 the NCBDN contacted Mr. Cooksey to inform him of the complaint and to seek further information. That same day, Mr. Cooksey made the disclaimer on his blog more prominent and took down his diabetes support services, for which he was charging a fee.  After further review, on April 9, 2012 Mr. Cooksey was sent a certified letter, stating that the NCBDN was satisfied that he had come into substantial compliance with the requirements of the law and that the NCBDN was closing the complaint it received against him. Mr. Cooksey signed for this letter. Currently, there is no active complaint or action against Mr. Cooksey on file with the NCBDN.

Since the date referenced in this action was April 9, and the date of the Carolina Journal article was April 23, I contacted NCBDN directly for clarification about which information was more accurate and recent.  (Being a Certified Health Coach located in North Carolina myself, “operating without a dietician’s license” just down the road from the NCBDN’s office, I decided to do this under an assumed name.  You know.  Just to be on the safe side.)  Charla Burrill, the organization’s Executive Director, issued this prompt response to my temporary alter-ego:

The statement that is posted on the NCBDN’s website was posted after the article in the Carolina Journal was published, and was posted in response to the misinformation this article perpetuated.  The matter against Mr. Cooksey was closed effective April 9, 2012.

So.  Apparently Mr. Cooksey has not been under threat of prosecution since April 9.  But that doesn’t change the fact that he was pressured to come into compliance with the organization’s mandates, effectively curtailing his freedom of speech.

In theory, this might not be such a bad thing.  An organization working to protect us from the kooks, quacks, and frauds of this world might be a trusted source to which we could turn for sound advice about how to nourish our bodies.

But the second reason why this agenda is dangerous is this: what if the information the organization – or the people licensed by that organization – provides is wrong?

I’m not making allegations.  I’m asking a question.  I don’t know firsthand what the dietician at Mr. Cooksey’s talk said that was so officious.  He only states in the article that she was promoting a high carb, low fat diet for diabetics.  From all I’ve studied about the subject, that is poor nutritional advice, if indeed she gave it.  If the self-appointed watchdog group has its information wrong, and threatens legal action against those who care to disagree, this agenda isn’t only dangerous to our freedom of speech.  It’s dangerous to our health and our lives.

I will leave you with one final thing to consider.  Roughly 72% of the members of the national Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are registered dieticians. While this organization presents itself as a trusted and independent source to turn to for sound nutritional advice, you might be surprised to learn that it is anything but an independent agency completely free from outside influence.  Look at this list of sponsors and partners:

How much attention do you think the Academy or its members will draw to the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified crops, and highly processed foods, when so many of their sponsors and partners are the manufacturers and distributors of those very products?

There will always be people more interested in making a buck than in making you well.

There are always two sides to a story.

And sometimes, there’s even a third.


© 2012  The Wellness Wordsmith


5 thoughts on “Protecting Us From The Kooks, Quacks, and Frauds

  1. He appears to be giving some advice, and if was charging for it, he was out of line. But there again, we get into the area of what is considered public domain, especially in regard to nutrition information. There are a gazillion sites out there, and anything he said is publicly available elsewhere. Sounds like the Board just wants him to tell people what worked for him and not make it sound like advice, which is probably appropriate. It’s sad because it sounds like he really cares about helping people, and is more interested in engaging others in finding solutions. That’s better than the typical MD response of “eat better and exercise”. Great stuff, Sue!

  2. Thank you so much for posting your thoughts on this matter. As someone who is currently in school to become a certified health coach and as a blogger, I certainly appreciate your further investigation into this matter. I love your final point about where the information for the dietetics association is coming from and who sponsors them. That is why i chose to become a health coach and not a dietician myself. I wanted a well rounded holistic education and the freedom to choose which dietary guidelines feel right for me and for each of my potential clients without the hinderance of any biases pushed on my by such organizations. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. If I had my way, I would remove any legal barriers to giving advice. It’s not as if people are forced to follow it.

    I could just as well say “I think you should eat a dozen doughnuts and smoke a pack of cigarettes every day” but you are perfectly free to ignore my “advice.”

    If I followed every piece of advice I ever received, I would be in a lot of trouble!

    If you’re claiming to be a doctor when you’re not (or otherwise claiming to have credentials you don’t have, in order to boost your credibility), that’s another story.

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