Donna Harris, a personal trainer from Madison, plans to present her first two-month weight loss program earlier this year.
The 35-year-old student who studied nutrition at the university will give you basic nutritional advice and recipes. She created a website and charged $ 99 each. Dozens of people fell.
Then came the message from the Mississippi Department of Health. He has threatened fines and time in prison if he continues to discuss the issue of losing weight for money, only registered dietitians can provide that advice.
“I immediately thought they were misunderstanding what I was doing,” said Harris.
He called the department the next day, explaining that he had a disclaimer on his website that said he was not a registered dietitian. She only planned to provide basic weight loss advice to healthy people. But without a license, Harris said he was told he could only provide information such as the food pyramid that had been approved by the government.
Then Harris closed the program and the participants returned around $ 7,000. He then sued several members of the Mississippi State Health Council, alleging that the agency had violated his constitutional right to freedom of expression.
“Conversations about what healthy people should eat to lose weight and stay in good health are greater than modernity itself,” said the lawsuit, filed by Aaron Rice, director of the Mississippi Justice Institute. “This talk does not lose its constitutional protection just because it has been compensated.
“While the state of Mississippi certainly has the power to regulate who can claim a dietitian’s license,” the lawsuit continues, “it has no legal authority to give authorized dietitians a monopoly of advice on what healthy adults should buy. in a grocery store. “
Harris, who has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and a master’s degree in occupational therapy, said he had no interest in becoming a licensed dietitian, which required 1,200 hours of supervised practice in a clinical setting before taking the exam.
She said she just wanted to help people who had already requested it, and declared that they were willing to pay. She already has a group of hundreds of members on Facebook who have provided free nutritional advice. She said the paid version will simply provide more personal guidance.
“They have always come to me, what am I eating for this? Very generic,” said Harris, a personal gym instructor. And people could also say, “Can I pay you to get more individual help?” “
“It could have been difficult to implement and they wanted more guidance.” “I really don’t know why, but they keep asking for more individual training. I think a large part of the exercise or diet is the responsibility.”
The lawsuit argues that, in addition to Harris’s rights to freedom of expression, the department has exceeded “his authority.” She said the legislature “specifically provided” that unauthorized people could provide the same type of public information that Harris had planned if they did not call themselves nutritionists.
Rice said that at least one state has updated its regulations in recent years to determine that giving general advice to healthy people about losing weight is not the same as a dietitian. A lawsuit for a similar situation in Florida. Rice and Harris said more nutritional advice and guidance should be encouraged in Mississippi, a long period among the most obese states.
“We literally have a crisis in our prisons, with riots and people fleeing, people killed, because our prisons are overcrowded and we are talking about ways to reduce the number of our prisoners,” Rice said. “They threaten to send sweet Donna to prison to tell people how to lose weight.“
Mississippi Health Department officials said Friday that they were unable to locate a copy of the suspension letter sent to Harris, and that they had no immediate comments on the lawsuit.