Freedom of Speech and the Blogger

by MuminBusiness

How far does your right to free speech protect your right to blog about health topics?

In North Carolina, a health blogger is facing the possibility of being sued for writing and publishing his story about how he got rid of diabetes following the paleo diet. Steve Cooksey drew attention to himself when attending a talk hosted by an official dietician. He questioned her theories and handed out his business card at HER event and three days later, he had a call from The North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition telling him that his website was being investigated. The board explained that he was giving health advice without suitable credentials.

Does free speech not give Steve the right to tell people suffering from diabetes how to overcome it?

Diabetic Health blogger faces Jail time

The thought of living with diabetes (or potentially dying) became the impetus that led Steve Cooksey to find another way to overcome his condition.  He realized his low carb, high protein (Paleo) diet was working.  His insulin requirements had reduced as though by magic and he was losing weight and generally getting healthier.  He then decided to tell the world about it and had done so for some time until the day he decided to confront a conventional dietician who seemed to take offence and report him - or so the story goes.  It could have been anyone in the seminar.

What is so wrong with trying to help people deal with their condition?  There are numerous disclaimers stating very clearly  that he is not in fact a medical professional at all so is he wrong to share his home grown expertise.

Looking a bit deeper into the story, I notice that he offers a one-to-one counselling for a fee.  Now, that does seem to cross the line as he is putting himself out there by default surely as someone capable of helping others live his lifestyle and treat/cure their diabetes.  And in this day and age, you need all kinds of certificates and insurances to be able to do that.  

Should the Nutrition Board threaten the Blogger with Jail Time?

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Mixed Feelings on the blogger

There are moves afoot all over the developed sections of the globe like Europe and the Americas to introduce various rules and regulations preventing 'lay' people from promoting things like vitamins, weight loss solutions and more health related subjects.  As a pharmacist myself, I have mixed feelings about this.

  • For me, it could mean I have less competition if I choose to help people access alternative health options via a website or by calling me for a paid one-to-one chat so on the one hand it could be good commercially.  And this makes me wonder if this is also an ulterior motive shared by various drug companies who would lose all competition if remedies can only be sourced through them and licensed practitioners.

  • The other hand of the argument would be people have shared remedies and cures for ages.  Now people have the ability to do it to a wider audience via social media channels such as facebook, Twitter and blogs.  

    What is so wrong with that?  If something worked for someone else, why not give it a try and see if it works for you.  I would!  

  • From a consumer safety perspective, it is difficult to know how trustworthy an individual on the internet is.  They may be promoting an unsafe product that they have never used themselves before.  This could lead to harm for a consumer.  This is probably the reason being given by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition 

Can we be good neighbors? or not?

How far can this go?  Will lay people who run slimming classes be threatened as well?  After all, they are usually promoting the fact that they have used the diet, vitamin, cream etc and it worked wonders for them and it just might do the same for you.

Surely, free speech covers these issues.

Have you got something to say?  Why not join me here and write, write, write?


Updated: 05/02/2012, MuminBusiness
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MuminBusiness on 04/30/2012

@ sheila Marie It really can be pretty confusing trying to navigate the line between helping people find a solution apart from conventional science and just promoting an alternative for the sake of profit.. However, if the conventional methods were proposed independent of profit, then I would be more inclined to be a lot more trusting fo them too. I know I am a professional myself and spend my working life suggesting these solutions.

However, I get pretty annoyed by the fact that there are hardly any cures provided the conventional way, I just see a lot of patients getting more and more dependent on increasing numbers of tablets. Sometimes, alternatives actually deal with the underlying concern. and that for me is worth a try.

As you say, what is called quackery today may well become the magic cure tomorrow but only as long as it is making profit for a big international company. And therein lies my problem...

This guy should be able to, without threats, tell people what worked for him. I would draw the line at advising individuals as it may not work the same for them. The reason it worked for him is that he took the time to educate himself and figure out what is best. This is what a lot of people do not want to do.

MuminBusiness on 04/30/2012

@Heal thyself I do agree that the law with regards to the NCBDN is a bit monopolistic and mostly I do not agree with it as if something worked for a so-called lay person, why on earth is it wrong to inform and help others, particularly if the patient is the focus.

Again, the other side of that is that some people do not take enough responsibility for their own health and may just take the word of a friend without looking into it for themselves. This could be dangerous as the fact that it worked for one does not necessarily mean it will work for all.

Although, the conventional methods of treatment do in fact advocate one way of treating every disease with no regard for individuality. Anyway, there are arguments for both sides, I think...

sheilamarie on 04/30/2012

Tricky business. I'm not sure what I feel about this. There have to be standards, but as you say, people have been giving friendly advice to their neighbors for centuries.
As others have stated before, it depends upon how the information is cloaked. Is it the advice of a professional who has actually based the recommendations on research and evidence, or is it circumstantial evidence that could be related to the diet or could be related to many other things? The bigger question is will the way the information is shared hurt the consumer or compel him to part with his money for a pipe dream?
On the other hand, there are many practices that were once thought quackery in the West that have now become more accepted in the mainstream. Acupuncture comes to mind, but there are many other medical practices that were once thought nonsense and are now seen as very helpful.
This man sounds like someone who feels impatient with the slowness of medical science and sincerely wants to help others who are dealing with what he deals with.

Heal Thyself on 04/30/2012

However, according to the law North Carolina Dietetics General Statute (§ 90-368.), Steve did not need to make changes to his website, because Steve has not claimed to be a dietician, or a nutritionist. Nor has he used any state licensed credentials.

Reference General Statute § 90-368. Persons and practices not affected. Sections (9) and (10).

(9) A person who does not hold himself out to be a dietitian or nutritionist when that person furnishes nutrition information on food, food materials, or dietary supplements. This Article does not prohibit that person from making explanations to customers about foods or food products in connection with the marketing and distribution of these products.

(10) An herbalist or other person who does not hold himself out to be a dietitian or nutritionist when the person furnishes nonfraudulent specific nutritional information and counseling about the reported or historical use of herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates, sugars, enzymes, food concentrates, or other foods. (1991, c. 668, s. 1; 1995, c. 509, s. 135.2(s).)

In fact, according to the NCBDN's "Rules" their broad MISinterpretation
of the law includes the internet, even people residing in other states.

Any person, whether residing in this state or not, who by use of electronic or other medium performs any of the acts described as the practice of dietetics/nutrition, but is not licensed pursuant to Article 25 of G.S. 90 shall be deemed by the Board as being engaged in the practice of dietetics/nutrition and subject to the enforcement provisions available to the Board. Among other remedies, the Board shall report violations of this Rule to any occupational licensing board having issued an occupational license to a person who violates this Rule. This Rule does not apply to persons licensed pursuant to, or exempt from licensure pursuant to, Article 25 of G.S. 90.

NCBDN "Rules" pdf:

A bit megalomaniac and monopolistic, I think.

The NC Board of Dietetics has a pattern of using threats and intimidation above the law, to silence nutritional information.

Pat Robinson

MuminBusiness on 04/30/2012

Informing against advising - That seems to sum it up. I must admit, having seen some of the scanty evidence some conventional treatments are based on, I cannot always see why anecdotal evidence is not sufficient for people to at least try something. Especially if there is no downside.

On the other hand, some people are very gullible so some protection may be necessary for them against charlatans with no feeling of a duty of care.

Thanks for stopping by.

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