Setting the Record Straight

Over the past several months a number of inaccuracies have been presented to the public regarding a complaint that was submitted to the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition (the NCBDN) concerning Steve Cooksey, an unlicensed person.

In July 1991, the Dietetics Practice Act, which falls under Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes, was passed. The mission of the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of North Carolina from harmful nutrition practice by providing for the licensure and regulation of persons engaged in the practice of dietetics/nutrition and by establishing educational standards for those persons. Under §90-365 of the North Carolina General Statutes, the NCBDN has a duty to investigate all complaints that it receives. The following specific points are meant to “set the record straight.”

It has been alleged that the NCBDN is harassing Mr. Cooksey.

As noted above, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition has a duty to investigate all complaints that it receives, regardless of whether it is an unlicensed person or licensed person. On January 13, 2012 a written complaint was submitted to the NCBDN alleging that Steve Cooksey was providing nutrition care services in North Carolina without a license. By law, the NCBDN had a duty to investigate this matter just as it would investigate any other complaint that is submitted to its office.

It has been reported that the NCBDN threatened to shut down Mr. Cooksey’s website.

No legal action has ever been threatened or taken against Mr. Cooksey by the NCBDN. On January 18, 2012, Mr. Cooksey was contacted by phone to inform him that a complaint had been filed against him and to seek further information. On January 27, 2012 Mr. Cooksey was sent detailed comments of the Board’s concerns regarding his compliance with the law, to which the Board invited discussion. Mr. Cooksey never contacted the NCBDN to discuss these comments. After completing the required investigation of the complaint by examining multiple factors, on April 9, 2012, Mr. Cooksey was sent a certified letter, stating that the NCBDN was satisfied that he had come into substantial compliance with the requirements of the law and that the NCBDN was closing the complaint it received against him. Mr. Cooksey signed for this letter. Currently, there is no active complaint or action against Mr. Cooksey on file with the NCBDN.

It has been reported that the NCBDN is threatening to send Mr. Cooksey to jail for recounting publicly his battle against diabetes and encouraging others to follow his lifestyle.

The NCBDN has no authority to criminalize any actions a person takes. By law, if a person has violated Chapter 90, Article 25 of the North Carolina General Statutes, the NCBDN may report such an action to a local prosecutor, however, it would be the prosecutor’s decision whether or not to seek a misdemeanor charge.

In the almost twenty years of this law’s existence there have only been two instances where the NCBDN has presented information to the authorities in order to allow the authorities to decide whether or not to pursue criminal prosecution. In both cases these persons were presenting falsified professional credentials and stolen identities.

It has been alleged that the NCBDN is attacking Mr. Cooksey’s right to free speech and has ordered him to stop speaking, change what he says and change what he publishes.

Of his own volition, upon being informed of the complaint against him, Mr. Cooksey made changes to his site, including, making his disclaimer that he is not a licensed dietitian/nutritionist more prominent and taking down his diabetes support packages. Later, Mr. Cooksey was sent a document detailing some of the Board’s concerns regarding his past interactions with some of his followers, however, this document was sent attached to an email that stated, “[g]iven our discussion, I believe our comments should make sense, however, should you disagree, I am happy to discuss.” Mr. Cooksey never contacted the NCBDN to discuss these comments. The NCBDN never ordered Mr. Cooksey to make any changes to his website.

It has been reported that the NCBDN maintains that Mr. Cooksey needs a license to advocate certain dietary approaches.

In and of itself, advocating a certain type of diet or dietary approach is not a violation of the law. The specific diet Mr. Cooksey promotes is not, and never has been, under investigation. However, unless a person is otherwise exempt, a license is required to provide nutrition care services, which is defined as:

• Assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups, and determining resources and constraints in the practice setting.
• Establishing priorities, goals, and objectives that meet nutritional needs and are consistent with available resources and constraints.
• Providing nutrition counseling in health and disease.
• Developing, implementing, and managing nutrition care systems.

It has been reported that this past January the state dietetics and nutrition board decided Mr. Cooksey’s blog violates state law.

The NCBDN never made any formal decision that Mr. Cooksey’s blog violated state law or commenced any type of legal action against him. Under the perception that Mr. Cooksey desired to come into compliance, the NCBDN sent Mr. Cooksey a document detailing its concerns regarding his compliance with the law.

It has been reported that a person cannot encourage others to adopt a certain type of diet unless one is licensed in North Carolina.

The Dietetics Practice Act says nothing about “encouraging” others. A license is required to provide nutrition care services as defined by the law (see above definition of nutrition care services).

It has been reported that that the NCBDN finds talking about diet without a license to be a crime.

The Dietetics Practice Act says nothing about “talking about diet.” Standing alone, talking about a diet, advocating a diet or sharing one’s own story regarding a diet is not a violation of the law, nor has the NCBDN ever communicated anything to the contrary.

It has been questioned why the NCBDN decided to close the complaint against Mr. Cooksey.

Initially, it did appear that the diabetes support services Mr. Cooksey was providing at the time the complaint was submitted, included nutrition care services and thereby, were in violation of the law. The NCBDN did indeed have some concerns regarding Mr. Cooksey’s original website and services as detailed in the document that was provided to him. Given Mr. Cooksey indicated verbally and in writing his desire to be in compliance, combined with his voluntary actions that followed, the NCBDN concluded that Mr. Cooksey was in substantial compliance.

In addressing all complaints the NCBDN considers multiple factors before deciding whether or not action should be pursued. Based upon these factors, as applied in Mr. Cooksey’s case, the NCBDN determined that Mr. Cooksey was in substantial compliance. As such, the Board concluded that no further action was required regarding this complaint.