Dietary Advice Could Mean Jail Time in Mississippi
Does dishing out healthy eating advice really deserve time behind bars?
The State of Mississippi says yes if you’re unlicensed
Photo courtesy of Mississippi Justice Institute
Donna Harris, a personal trainer and fitness expert from Mississippi, has been offering healthy eating tips on her Facebook page since 2018. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food science, along with a master's degree in occupational therapy.
Earlier this year, she decided to launch a small contest where she’d offer one-on-one diet coaching and weight loss tips to participants competing over 8 weeks to lose the most weight. They’d have to pay just $99 to participate.
When the state caught wind of it in January (2020), the Mississippi Department of Health served Donna a cease-and-desist letter. The contest didn’t even have the chance to begin.
According to the state, sharing advice about healthy eating on Facebook and getting paid to do so could result in a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months of jail time.
From the state’s perspective, Donna was an unlicensed dietician giving nutritional advice — although she clearly stated on her Facebook page and website that she wasn’t one.
In order to become a licensed and legal dietician in the State of Mississippi, it requires a bachelor's degree and more than 1,200 hours of supervised practice. And beginning in 2024, the license will require a graduate degree.
But even with her two degrees, Donna doesn’t qualify as a licensed, legal dietitian.
Donna is currently working with the Mississippi Justice Institute to fight back based on her First Amendment rights.
If her results are anything like the similar situation that happened to Heather Del Castillo, a holistic health coach from Florida, the outcome doesn’t look good.
Heather fought the state with the same claim that her health coaching was protected under First Amendment rights. But in reality, she had no solid legal defense to stand up in court.
And the same looks to be true for Donna’s case as well.
Donna’s story is all too common, where states have full rights to regulate holistic health services and businesses, typically through licensure.
While laws governing health care services vary state-by-state, they most often require lengthy and expensive education for licensure. If you don’t abide by the regulations of licensure — regardless of if you’re a surgeon or someone who provides essential oil therapies or nutritional advice — you’re subject to expensive legal troubles that could leave you closing up shop.
The good news is that there are alternatives to these expensive, time-consuming education requirements, which allow you to offer your holistic services without worry.
As a licensed Professional Wellness Alliance (PWA) team member, you can operate with the peace-of-mind that you are legally protected to offer your services in any state.