North Carolina Says No To The Free Exchange of Ideas for Nutrition Blogger

A man who has blogged about his success in overcoming diabetes is under fire from the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition for his allegedly giving “advice” to people regarding how to manage their diabetes. Steve Cooksey is not selling advice, drugs, or requesting any sort of compensation. He is recounting his experience, knowledge, and success in overcoming his previous diabetic condition. When the state refers to his needing a license to give advice, they are in essence saying they are the sole authority on what is viable or worthless information regarding medical issues. They would not take issue with Mr. Cooksey’s writings as long as he paid the State’s extortion fee for being able to freely communicate. Mr. Cooksey could be a complete quack and provide dangerous information, as long as he had a license from the State. Of course, getting a license probably means proving you have completed some sort of “approved” training or possess a degree in the field you are professing to be knowledgeable in, but that is still no bar to someone giving bad information.

There is a statement on that states:

I am not a doctor, dietitian nor nutritionist¦ in fact I have no medical training of any kind. If I can figure this out so should they¦ if it wasn’t for their ¦

A) Intellectual Laziness

B) Willful ignorance

C) Greed

D) All of the Above 🙂

Apparently Mr. Cooksey makes no attempt to profess himself to be any sort of license professional. As a matter of fact, Mr. Cooksey clearly takes exception to the current established medical industry. People who read Mr. Cooksey’s blog and see this information, and who are promoters of inferior western medicine, would not be inclined to follow Mr. Cooksey’s recommendations. Those who visit Mr. Cooksey’s blog and see his disclaimer but continue to read his blog are most likely distrusting and suspicious of failed western medicine and looking for an alternative.

Medical doctors give bad advice all the time. They dispense dangerous pharmaceuticals which cause sometimes unpredictable and life-threatening side effects. They subject people to unnecessary and dangerous tests and perform unnecessary surgery. Doctors possess licenses, as well as being indemnified to some degree for their incompetence or negligence. On the other hand, there are very good, competent doctors who are careful and compassionate with their patients. Being, or not being, in possession of a State license can empower the bad doctor to harm others or prevent the good doctor from helping others. The State is really in no position to say who may, and who may not, give advice. To say Mr. Cooksey is in no position to recommend to others a  non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical, non-medical alternative to the conventional “bad medical advice” is no business of the State of North Carolina.

The State attempts to keep people who give “advice” in the same box. You must conform to a set of approved and accepted standards before you can give advice. Yet, the State has the monopoly of approving and accepting based on their corporate lackeys and professional benefactors and their secured interest in money in giving advice. Someone who persevere in succeeding in alternative, non-accepted approaches are then encumbered with devoting time and money in jumping through brainwashing hoops in hopes of carrying favor with the State before they can give advice. The only advice the State wants others to give is that which funnels people into the same failed and hackneyed remedies which line the pockets of government agencies, ignorant or incompetent doctors, and pharmaceutical companies. The State is not to be trusted, because there is no “license” to run for office or be appointed. The biggest nincompoop can be elected or appointed to a position that then wields such influence as is being wielded against Mr. Cooksey. They have no training or expertise, yet, they are empowered with determining what may be published or licensed. Do you really want to put your access to information in the hands of such nincompoops? The State is incompetence incarnate.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the individual to vet the information they act upon. The saying, “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) holds true with any advice. Doctors are given a pass for their mistakes because there is a doctrine of “fully informed consent”. If a doctor prescribes a medicine, you will receive a pamphlet of information on the drugs side-effects, precautions, and intended uses. Much of it contains medical jargon that most do not understand. Nevertheless, you have been “informed” and have little or no recourse if you choose to take the drug and suffer negative or harmful effects.

I encourage Mr. Cooksey to  persist with his endeavor and not change a thing on his blog. I’ll even go so far as to offer space on my blog for Mr. Cooksey to post his information if the State of North Carolina shuts him down. I also encourage people to review Mr. Cooksey’s blog and follow his advice, since he has found a holistic way of combating diabetes. I am always trying to get people I know with diabetes to adopt a healthier lifestyle and essentially follow Mr. Cooksey’s approach, even though I had no awareness of Mr. Cooksey until recently. How serendipitous.  That said, you can get off of insulin, meds, and harmful health consequences from diabetes if you modify your diet and lifestyle. My “ADVICE” to diabetics is to follow Mr. Cooksey’s successful approaches to overcoming diabetes. There, all that said and I have no license either.

An article regarding the matter follows.

State Threatens to Shut Down Nutrition Blogger

Nutrition board says he needs a license to advocate dietary approaches

Apr. 23rd, 2012
CHARLOTTE “ The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is threatening to send a blogger to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.

Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes makes it a misdemeanor to “practice dietetics or nutrition without a license. According to the law, “practicing nutrition includes “assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups and “providing nutrition counseling.

Steve Cooksey has learned that the definition, at least in the eyes of the state board, is expansive.

When he was hospitalized with diabetes in February 2009, he decided to avoid the fate of his grandmother, who eventually died of the disease. He embraced the low-carb, high-protein Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman or “hunter-gatherer diet. The diet, he said, made him drug- and insulin-free within 30 days. By May of that year, he had lost 45 pounds and decided to start a blog about his success.

But this past January the state diatetics and nutrition board decided Cooksey’s blog “ “ violated state law. The nutritional advice Cooksey provides on the site amounts to “practicing nutrition, the board’s director says, and in North Carolina that’s something you need a license to do.

Unless Cooksey completely rewrites his 3-year-old blog, he could be sued by the licensing board. If he loses the lawsuit and refuses to take down the blog, he could face up to 120 days in jail.

The board’s director says Cooksey has a First Amendment right to blog about his diet, but he can’t encourage others to adopt it unless the state has certified him as a dietitian or nutritionist.

The seminar

Jan. 12, Cooksey attended a nutrition seminar at a church in Charlotte. The speaker was the director of diabetes services for a local hospital.

“She was giving all the wrong information, just like everyone always does “ carbs are OK to eat, we must eat carbs to live, promoting low-fat, etc., Cooksey said. “So I spoke up.

After the meeting he handed out a couple of business cards pointing people to his website.

Three days later, he got a call from the director of the nutrition board.

“Basically, she told me I could not give out nutritional advice without a license, Cooksey said.

He said she also told him that his website was being investigated and gave him some suggestions about how to bring it into compliance.

If he does not go along, the board could file an injunction and “essentially shut the website down, Cooksey said.

The law

Charla Burill, the board’s director, told Carolina Journal she could not discuss the details of Cooksey’s case because his website is still under investigation, but agreed to talk about the law in the hypothetical.

It’s not necessarily against the law to give your sister or your friend nutritional advice, she said. And it’s not necessarily against the law to use a blog to tell people what they should eat.

Where it crosses the line, Burill said, is when a blogger “advertises himself as an expert and “takes information from someone such that he’s performing some sort of assessment and then giving it back with some sort of plan or diet.

Cooksey posted a link (6.3 MB PDF download) to the board’s review of his website. The document shows several Web pages the board took issue with, including a question-and-answer page, which the director had marked in red ink noting the places he was “assessing and counseling readers of his blog.

“If people are writing you with diabetic specific questions and you are responding, you are no longer just providing information “ you are counseling, she wrote. “You need a license to provide this service.”

The board also found fault with a page titled “My Meal Plan, where Cooksey details what he eats daily.

In red, Burril writes, “It is acceptable to provide just this information [his meal plan], but when you start recommending it directly to people you speak to or who write you, you are now providing diabetic counseling, which requires a license.

The board also directed Cooksey to remove a link offering one-on-one support, a personal-training type of service he offered for a small fee.

Cooksey posts the following disclaimer at the bottom of every page on his website:

“I am not a doctor, dietitian, nor nutritionist ¦ in fact I have no medical training of any kind.

In fact, he brags about his lack of formal training throughout his blog.

“It’s so simple, he told CJ. “I cut carbs, I reduced my drugs and insulin until I didn’t need them at all. If I can figure that out, why in the hell can’t all these other people [in the medical field]?

Burill said the disclaimer may not protect a nutrition blogger from the law.

“If I’ve given you reason to not worry that I don’t have a license because I have all these other reasons I’m an expert, you could still harm the public, she said. “At least you’re not trying to mislead the public, but you’re trying to get the public to trust you.

It’s a fine line between what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to talking about nutrition.

“Anyone can talk about anything they want, Burill said. “That’s a First Amendment right, so to speak.

For example, a person could write a blog advocating vegetarianism, she said.

“Now if you advertised that you’d taken classes in nutrition, you’ve worked at [the federal government’s Food and Nutrition Service] for three years, and you say I believe everyone should be a vegetarian, and I’m here to help you if you want to change your diet’ [that could be crossing the line], Burill said.

“A vegetarian diet would be a little bit harder [to prosecute] because a vegetarian is not really like a medical diet.

Burill said if Cooksey refuses to come into compliance with the law, the board could file for an injunction.

Free speech

Declan McCullagh, a correspondent who writes about online free speech, says the board probably is violating Cooksey’s First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment says state and federal governments shall make no law’ abridging freedom of speech, McCullagh said. “It doesn’t say except for what annoys the North Carolina Board of Dietetics and Nutrition.’

McCullagh pointed to a sentence in Cooksey’s blog the board didn’t approve of: “I do suggest that your friend eat as I do and exercise the best they can.

“If that language appeared in a book or a magazine article, do you think the board would complain? McCullagh asked. “How about if someone said that to a friend over dinner at a restaurant? Of course not. But because it’s on the Web, they seem to think that the First Amendment no longer applies.

McCullagh said the board may be on more solid ground in its complaint about the telephone support packages Cooksey offers. “But ¦ if customers are paying $97 or $149 or $197 a month to have someone listen, that sounds a lot like life coaching, which doesn’t require a license.

“In general, I think that as long as someone is very clear that they’re not a licensed dietician, state officials can probably find better uses of their time, he said.

Cooksey said the board both has violated his freedom of speech and done a disservice to the people of North Carolina. He said all he’s trying to do with his blog is provide an alternative to the nutritional advice pushed by mainstream sources on what they say people should be eating.

Cooksey said he’s seeking legal assistance in case the state decides to take further action against him.

Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.

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