Blogging About the Paleo Diet Can Get You Shut Down in North Carolina


The state of North Carolina has its own "Board of Dietetics and Nutrition"–of course it does–and it has decided that one bloggers right to free speech ends where the North Carolina Board of Dietetics and Nutrition's officious overbearingness begins, as I think Oliver Wendell Holmes (or was it Oliver Wendell Douglas?) once wrote.

Here's the naughty bits, as reported in Carolina Journal:

[When] Steve Cooksey…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 — Diabetes-Warrior.net — 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.

Seems he came to their attention after contradicting a local hospital's director of diabetes services at a local meeting, and handing out cards about his site. What did the Board find objectionable about Cooksey's site?

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, [Dietetics and Nutrition Board director] 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."

The bureaucrat speaks!

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….

Burill said [Cooksey's] 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."….

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

The paleo diet–a passionate fad and/or lifestyle change of an enormous number of folk I know concentrated in the world's of libertarianism, futurism, space, and your basic "new digital economy" (does that still exist?) and the places where all those interests intersect–may or may not save you from diabetes, give you the pep you need, or revert you back down the evolutionary chain, or whatever it's supposed to do.

But that someone should be able to describe his experiences with it and advocate for his own good results should go without saying, though my saying that may well contradict a directive of the California Board of Going Without Saying.

The board's review of Cooksey's site. in remarkably official-looking pen scrawls in margins of a printout of the site.

Read Cooksey's site if you care to–it ain't illegal (yet).

In a previous century, I wrote about the Federal Trade Commission's power to essentially censor speech when it comes to claims about chiropraxy.