As an owner or operator of a health club, having a nutritional counselor on your staff is a fantastic way to add value to your membership and even more exciting, it's a great way to generate some bucks for your club. However, unlike personal training, there are some important legal guidelines that must be followed in order to keep your club out of the police blotter in your local newspaper. To make sure that you've got all of your ducks in a row, let's cover some of the basic legal aspects of proper nutrition counseling and how to avoid opening Pandora's box.
What's In A Name?
The key element in providing so-called “legal nutrition counseling” is not in actually who is doing the counseling, but rather the title or designation assigned to the counselor. In some states only an RD is legally approved to use the title of nutritionist or dietitian. This means that some health clubs could find themselves in hot water simply by referring to their staff member with a certain title. Keep in mind that your club does not have to have a Registered Dietitian (RD), Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN), or a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), all of which are fantastic credentials, to legally counsel members about nutrition. To prevent any potential ambiguity, and to insure that there is no misrepresentation, the safe bet is to use the designation or title of Nutritional Counselor when referring to your staff member. In addition, make sure that all of your marketing materials are in no way misleading, and that any of the counselor's credentials and their title of “Nutritional Counselor” are properly displayed.
Another issue, and the crux of so-called “illegal nutrition counseling,” falls within the bounds of something that our government calls the dastardly deed of “practicing medicine without a license.” For the nutritional counselor, “practicing medicine without a license” would entail collecting a fee for the diagnosis of any medical condition, the treatment of any illness or medical condition with vitamins or diet, and the prescription of any nutrient or diet program for the treatment of any illness or medical condition.
The first step, and an easy one at that, in an attempt to insure that your Nutritional Counselor does not cross this line, is to have them eliminate the words diagnose, prescribe, treat, and cure from their vocabulary. The purpose of nutritional counseling, which the counselor needs to both understand and explain to their clients, is to build health through education. Period!
A final precaution, which should be a mandatory part of the counseling process, is to make sure that prior to the initial consultation, the member fills out and signs some type of medical release form. This form should state the counselor's credentials and title, as well as the above verbiage regarding how the consultation is not for the purpose of diagnosis, etc., and a recommendation for the member to speak with their physician prior to beginning any nutritional program.
With all of that said, keep in mind what your club's nutritional program is really for: to help the members make better food choices and to experience better health.
Todd Brown CCN, CSCS, is the director of personal training and nutrition for all of the New Jersey WOW! Work Out World facilities. He can be reached at (732) 390-7390 ext. 19.