Ensuring consumers’ rights to safe nutrition

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

I am writing with deep concern regarding a misleading recent op-ed headlined, “New Jersey trying to make dietary advice illegal” (NJBIZ, Oct. 29, Page 23). From the false headline to the end of the article, the authors ignore the same important distinctions between giving general “dietary advice” (or what the legislation calls general “nutritional information”) and providing potentially lifesaving services that require significant levels of education and training as part of their mission of misinformation against efforts to regulate professions, which they have been placing in newspaper op-eds across the country, such as The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 1) and the Orlando Sentinel (March 12).

To the Editor:

I am writing with deep concern regarding a misleading recent op-ed headlined, “New Jersey trying to make dietary advice illegal” (NJBIZ, Oct. 29, Page 23). From the false headline to the end of the article, the authors ignore the same important distinctions between giving general “dietary advice” (or what the legislation calls general “nutritional information”) and providing potentially lifesaving services that require significant levels of education and training as part of their mission of misinformation against efforts to regulate professions, which they have been placing in newspaper op-eds across the country, such as The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 1) and the Orlando Sentinel (March 12).

There is an enormous difference between wellness services offering people routine suggestions for eating better and practitioners providing safe, effective counseling and treatment, for example, to clients and hospital patients who have life-threatening conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney disorders.

The former — personal trainers, coaches, yoga teachers and bloggers — would not be impacted unless they cross that line. Bloggers have no professional, quasi-fiduciary relationship with a patient or client that turns their blogs into the practice of dietetics or nutrition; CrossFit coaches talking about protein supplements and protein is fine, but telling a client to pack in protein could be problematic if he or she has kidney disease.

Nutrition is a science, and registered dietitian nutritionists must earn the qualifications to provide services to treat and manage these serious conditions, and much more. The medical nutrition therapy we provide is as complicated as the diseases and conditions we treat, in patients who often are very sick. Individuals without formal training and credentials could not possibly know how to properly treat such patients.

Nutrition is a science, and registered dietitian nutritionists must earn the qualifications to provide services to treat and manage these serious conditions, and much more.

RDNs alone have the knowledge, skills, background, established standards of practice and the ongoing continuing education requirements to be people’s most reliable source of nutrition-related advice and services. The practice of dietetics is regulated and operates under a strict code of ethics; while “coaches” and similarly titled practitioners can operate without any oversight whatsoever — which does a disservice to the many wellness professionals doing important work.

The proliferation of spurious credentials and new and derivative titles such as “nutrition therapy practitioner” mislead the public by implying qualifications to provide medical nutrition therapy and other complex nutrition services. Despite the authors’ claims that concerns about harm from unlicensed practice “ring hollow,” one need only look to Knoxville, Tenn., where just recently multiple children fell seriously ill and a 4-year-old boy was gravely injured with hemolytic uremic syndrome after parents took the nutrition advice of an unqualified practitioner.

RDNs’ unparalleled skills are safely and effectively put to work every day in hospitals, schools, public health clinics, nursing homes, fitness centers, food management, food industry, universities, research and private practice. RDNs are advocates for advancing the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world.

I would not want to undergo an appendectomy performed by someone who does not have a medical license, nor would I want a non-attorney arguing my case in a courtroom. It is a matter of common sense and public safety to require certain levels of training and experience to work in these areas. The same goes for nutrition services. That is why RDNs are credentialed at the national level by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and, in most states, like physicians and attorneys, are licensed by appropriate agencies that are established to protect the public.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, holds that academic, experience and exam standards at the registered dietitian nutritionist level are the minimum qualifications necessary to be a safe, effective provider of nutrition services such as medical nutrition therapy. The academy works with its members, as well as legislators and other stakeholders, in every state to protect consumers and ensure high standards for nutrition and dietetics practice. 

New Jersey residents seeking complex nutrition services such as medical nutrition therapy deserve no less protection than those in the rest of the country. Untold millions of people are in need of safe, science-based nutrition and dietary advice. Seeking the services of a registered dietitian nutritionist is the best way to ensure you are getting the best possible help in eating right and staying healthy.

Elizabeth Hanna

President, New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

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