Expression Laws Every Diet Blogger Needs to Know About
Running a diet blog is always going to be hard work. You have to worry about driving traffic, doing SEO convincing people the diet works and maximizing conversions. Am I forgetting something? Oh yeah, you also need to know the law inside and out.
You need to be very careful about what you say when you are blogging about a diet. There is a fine line between sharing information and providing medical advice. You need to be careful not to cross the line if you don’t have a medical license.
Steve Cooksey of North Carolina had to learn that lesson the hard way. Cooksey is the founder and editor of the blog Diabetes Warrior. The state board of nutrition informed Cooksey that he was providing medical advice without a license.
Cooksey hired lawyers to protest the decision. He argues that he was within his rights to deliver this advice. However, he may very well lose that lawsuit.
United States bloggers should understand the limits to the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment. Too many bloggers believe that the First Amendment allows them to say whatever they like without fear of consequences. That isn’t the case.
What Does the First Amendment Really Mean?
The First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you like. However, you are responsible for what you say. You are legally culpable if your speech violates the law.
North Carolina has a law that expressly states that you need to have a license to provide medical advice. If a blogger in the United States violates those laws, then they probably have little recourse in court. The Cooksey case may set a different precedent, but I would expect the state to side with the state on this one.
Does that mean that you can’t blog about dieting if you aren’t a registered physician, nutritionist or dietian? Not necessarily. However, you will need to be cautious. You need to be especially careful if you are writing about something like the paleo diet, which has yet to be accepted by the mainstream medical community. The biggest thing to be careful of is making sure you don’t cross the line into providing medical advice.
How Should You Manage Your Diet Blog?
The definition of medical advice may vary from state to state. However, here are some of the criteria that North Carolina gave to Cooksey to warn him that he was providing medical advice:
- Helping people set dietary goals to reach.
- Telling people what types of foods they should eat.
- Constructing a set of principles and guidelines someone should follow to have proper nutrition.
These guidelines are particularly important if you are going to be blogging. As a paleo blogger myself, I am careful not to give any advice. I merely cite stories, studies and recipes written by others. I make it clear that the arguments are not my own.
You should also make sure that you have a disclaimer on your blog. Make it clear that you are not a health professional and none of the information should be interpreted as medical advice.
Cooksey may still win this case, but you should be very careful about running any health blog. Government regulators tend to watch over blogs that discuss health related issues much more carefully than many other sites.
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