State report: 'It does not appear that licensing dietitians and nutritionists is necessary to protect the public'
In 2011, a North Carolina blogger named Steve Cooksey began an advice column on his website where he gave his opinion to readers asking nutritional questions.
But because dietitians and nutritionists are required to have a license there, the state board informed him that his advice was criminal and worked to shut him down. Cooksey is now engaged in an ongoing legal fight.
The case is extreme, but some worry that similar action could happen in Michigan, which also requires strict licensing for those providing certain health information.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dietitians and nutritionists are food and nutrition experts who, "advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal."
The law, Act 333 of 2006 says: "An individual shall not engage in the practice of dietetics and nutrition or provide or offer to provide dietetics and nutrition care services unless licensed or otherwise authorized." It also prohibits health professionals from "the integration and application of the scientific principles of food, nutrition, biochemistry, physiology, management, and behavioral and social sciences to achieve and maintain the health of individuals."
Dietitians and nutritionists are required to have at least an approved bachelor's degree, complete 900 hours of post-degree work supervised by a licensed professional and complete an exam. They must also pay an annual fee of $75 per year to the state with a $20 application fee.
But a proposed bill in the Legislature would repeal the law. House Bill 4688 was introduced recently by Rep. Edward McBroom, R-Norway, and sits in the House Regulatory Reform Committee.
"[The bill] deregulates the license for dietitians and nutritionists," said Rep. McBroom. "It was [previously] believed that the lack of statutory regulation over the profession of dietetics and nutrition endangered the public health."
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics disagrees with the deregulation, believing that it could lead to "public harm."
"Licensure ensure the Michigan public that the most qualified, educated and well trained professionals will treat chronic illness and disease," said Ann Hoffman, president of the Michigan chapter of the group. "There are no alternatives to state regulation of the occupation that adequately protects the public from risk of harm which is real in Michigan."
But other health advisors do not agree that the mandate protects the public.
The Michigan Nutrition Association is against requiring the strict licensing of dietitians and nutritionists. In an evaluation of the 2006 law, the group noted:
The MNA believes that the rules currently in place would create a de facto monopoly for registered dietitians in the State of Michigan, which would result in diminishment of competition and violation of the law. The end result would be a considerable loss of jobs and unnecessary restriction in Michiganders' freedom to choose health care providers. It would also significantly disrupt and reduce the pool of practitioners available to offer services to the public at a time when the awareness of importance of nutrition to health is increasing the demand for these services.
An unconnected group of "natural health" websites and writers also are opposed to the licensing. The Alliance for Natural Health sees the requirements as "monopolistic" designed to eliminate competition. And an article on the website, Natural News, called the attempt to remove licensing requirements as "good news for health freedom, as individuals across Michigan who choose to share nutritional information and advice with their friends or neighbors will not have to worry about government bureaucrats suing them."
A 2012 state report from the Office of Regulatory Reinvention reviewed dozens of areas the state requires people to be licensed and calls for eliminating those required for dietitians and nutritionists. The report notes that there are many national credentialing bodies for these professions and said, "A closer examination of the practices of dietitians and nutritionists calls into question whether true public harm is prevented by licensing the occupations … it does not appear that licensing dietitians and nutritionists is necessary to protect the public."
There is a slate of bipartisan legislation that would get rid of some of the licensing mandates in the state. Michigan Capitol Confidential will be covering some of these bills over the next few weeks.
(Editor's note: Every Saturday, Michigan Capitol Confidential brings you a story about a bill being discussed in committee or presented in the Legislature for a vote. For more information, go to www.MichiganVotes.org. The text of this story has been slightly changed from its original posting.)