EDITORIAL: Facing jail time for offering dietary advice

Once again, the folks at the Institute for Justice are providing a great service by shining a light on protectionist occupational licensing schemes. The law firm’s latest highlight case involves a Florida woman who faces jail for giving dietary advice.

Heather Kokesch Del Castillo works as a health coach and is the founder of Constitution Nutrition. She “provides personalized diet and nutrition advice to paying customers,” the institute notes. But that’s illegal in the Sunshine State, where those who receive compensation for offering such tips must be licensed dietitians or nutritionists.

The Florida Department of Health has fined Ms. Kokesch Del Castillo $750 and ordered her to cease operations until she acquires the necessary licensing. But that’s extremely burdensome — all by design so existing practitioners can limit competition. The institute reports that getting a license would require a four-year bachelor’s degree and 900 hours of supervised practice, along with passing an exam and paying the necessary fees.

This is absurd. As long as Ms. Kokesch Del Castillo isn’t misrepresenting herself, the state should have no role here. “If I wanted to publish a book about nutrition or dieting, I wouldn’t need a license in Florida,” she correctly points out. “But because I give advice directly to paying customers, the government has told me to stop talking.”

Supporters of occupational licensing cite health and safety concerns as justification for state intervention. But too often, the barriers do little to protect consumers and serve instead to shield entrenched interests at the expense of opportunity and job creation. The number of professions and vocations that require government permission — hair braiders, landscapers, interior decorators — has skyrocketed in recent decades to the detriment of the entrepreneurial spirit.

“Heather shouldn’t need the government’s permission to give advice to other adults on what to buy at the grocery store,” said Paul Sherman, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “Advice about diet and nutrition is ubiquitous in America, and paying someone for that advice doesn’t strip it of First Amendment protection.”

The Institute for Justice has a long history of winning these types of cases — and rightfully so. Expect Heather Kokesch Del Castillo to be the latest beneficiary.

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