House Bill 985, sponsored by Rep. Dan Eubanks, would prohibit the Department of Health from regulating who can discuss general weight loss programs. This would allow entrepreneurs who are knowledgeable about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, even if they are not registered dietitians, to earn a living.

Yesterday, the Mississippi Justice Institute announced a lawsuit challenging the Department’s ban on speech about weight loss after Donna Harris was threatened with jail time and fines for offering weight-loss tips to happy customers. 

Donna has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and is a certified personal trainer. Her life passion is sharing information about nutrition and physical fitness.  After leaving the workforce to raise her daughter at home, Donna was looking for a new career that would allow her to balance her work and her life as a busy mom. 

As a local fitness instructor, she had already attracted a loyal following. Her clients knew Donna was passionate and knowledgeable about nutrition and physical fitness, so many began turning to her for weight-loss advice. Some even suggested she start private classes, offering to pay for her services. So, Donna decided to make the plunge. She would become an entrepreneur. She began offering an eight-week weight loss program at the beginning of 2020 and had 70 participants signed up immediately. 

Donna’s website included disclaimers that she wasn’t a registered dietician, and that she would only be providing weight loss strategies and would not be offering information to treat specific medical conditions.  And Mississippi law specifically exempts people offering “general nutrition information as to the use of foods, food materials, or dietary supplements” from the licensure requirements. The Department claimed that Donna and others are only allowed to provide government-approved guidelines, such as the Food Pyramid and myplate.gov, not provide the advice she was offering. To satisfy the state, and avoid jail time and fines, Donna would have to complete 1,200 hours of training that she doesn’t need or have the time to complete.

This legislation would allow Donna and others like her to earn a living, while decreasing our state’s regulatory burden. 

MCPP has reviewed this legislation and finds that it is aligned with our principles and therefore should be supported. 

Read HB 985.

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