As a fitness professional, you may be in search of best practices for nutrition and exercise advice, and specifically disclaimers for nutrition and exercise advice you may offer in the course of your work as a fitness professional.
So, what are some professional best practices for nutrition and exercise advice?
Be aware of your legal and ethical limitations. This includes being very clear about your qualifications. In some states, there are explicit limitations on providing nutrition counseling or dietetic advice, while in others it is permitted with notice. For example, Illinois state law (nutrition and dietician practice act) states that you may not engage in nutrition counseling unless you a licensed dietician or other healthcare professional: doctors, chiropractors, athletic trainers or nurses (to a limited capacity) (225 ILCS 30 Dietitian Nutritionist Practice Act.). Elsewhere, California provides that fitness professionals are permitted to offer information about food and food information (or giving advice with regard to proper nutrition), only if you display a notice in an easily visible and prominent place the following statement in his or her place of business (CA Business and Professions Code 2053.6):
“State law allows any person to provide nutritional advice or give advice concerning proper nutrition–which is the giving of advice as to the role of food and food ingredients, including dietary supplements. This state law does NOT confer authority to practice medicine or to undertake the diagnosis, prevention, treatment, or cure of any disease, pain, deformity, injury, or physical or mental condition and specifically does not authorize any person other than one who is a licensed health practitioner to state that any product might cure any disease, disorder, or condition.”
There are also required for the size and formatting of the notice. The notice required by this Californian section 2053.6 shall not be smaller than 81/2 inches by 11 inches and shall be legibly printed with lettering no smaller than 1/2 inch in length, except the lettering of the word “NOTICE” shall not be smaller than 1 inch in length.
Know the difference between general nutritional information and prescriptive advice.
In general terms, sharing nutritional guidelines in accordance with the food pyramid or recommending books to clients is about information, but prescribing supplements, specific dietary plans, or formulating menus for clients may be legally problematic.
One way to mitigate the risk of liability is for fitness professionals is to have a set of clear, and comprehensive disclaimers that ensure that a client is aware that they assume all risk for acting upon the advice given.
Be especially aware of your limitations when working with clients with underlying health conditions. One of areas where nutritional advice can become problematic is when a fitness professional who is not a licensed dietician or nutritionist offers prescriptive advice beyond very basic and commonly known information, especially where a client may have an underlying health condition or food related allergies. This may be of particular concern when you have a client with an underlying medical concern such as cholesterol, high or low blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid concerns, intolerances, allergies, or eating disorders, among other medical conditions.
Consider whether as a personal trainer and/or fitness professional, you have sufficient training and education, or are equipped with the knowledge (or the time) to a) research for that client and b) prepare a well-thought out food plan that relates to that client, c) have that client sign a disclaimer acknowledging that all advice and eating plans are undertaken at their own risk. As was mentioned above, even this possible approach may not be legal in all states. This is where d) seeking out state specific legal advice becomes essential to protecting your business.
You may also want to consider developing a referral relationship with a nutritional expert, or licensed dietician in order both to stay clear of any question of illegality, and finding other professionals to assist their client better meet and exceed their goals.
Include Disclaimers in an obvious location: A link on every page to your disclaimers and policies and perhaps a shortened version of your disclaimer at the bottom of every page or post would not be overkill, in fact you want them to be found and read.
The basics of why you need disclaimers and where you should include them are worth repeating because this is an important way that you can prevent problems (especially legal problems) before they arise. An earlier article explaining essential disclaimers for fitness coaches detailed four categories of needed disclaimers: 1) General, 2) Medical, 3) Personal, and 4) Results. Nutrition and Exercise advice disclaimers, which are the focus of this article, fit into the last three categories. Here are some examples of exercise and nutritional advice related disclaimers:
- I am not a doctor or a dietician. The information I provide is based on my personal experience, studies of XXXX & XXXX and my experience as a Personal Trainer [edit to indicate your qualification type]. Any recommendations I may make about weight training, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided to you in person or on this website should be discussed between you and your doctor because working out involves risks.The information you receive in our emails, programs, services and products do not take the place of professional medical advice.
- For Educational and Informational Purposes Only. While we draw on our prior professional expertise and background in many areas, you acknowledge that we are supporting you in our roles exclusively as XXXX coaches only. We provide information concerning, but not limited to, XXXXX. [replace the X’s with relevant wording for your business].
- We aim to accurately represent the information provided in our e-mails, programs, services, and products. You are acknowledging that you are participating voluntarily in using any of our e-mails, programs, services, and/or products, and you alone are solely and personally responsible for your results. You acknowledge that you take full responsibility for your health, life and well-being, as well as the health, lives and well-being of your family and children (born and unborn, as applicable), and all decisions now or in the future.
- Before starting any new diet and exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise and/or diet changes with them before beginning. We are NOT doctors, nutritionists or registered dietitians. We do not claim to help cure any condition or disease. We do not provide medical aid or nutrition advise for the purpose of health or disease nor do we claim to be doctors or dietitians.
- Any product recommendation is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Our statements and information have not necessarily been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
- We expressly disclaim responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application or interpretation of any material provided to you as the client.
Be clear that results are not guaranteed. On one hand it may seem redundant to point out that every single person is different, it is important to make it clear to your clients whether through advertising materials, and through your disclaimers that a particular result is not guaranteed. The reason for this, simply put, is that you don’t want to give rise to expectations on the part of the client that are not possible to meet as a consequence of that client’s background, dedication, physical capacity, or health and genetic makeup. You are trying to avoid being accused of making promises of results that you can’t follow through on. This is another area where having an attorney well versed in fitness law who can review your advertising materials and your disclaimers to help you prevent trouble before it happens. Here are a couple of examples of disclaimer language on the inability to guarantee results:
- Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.
- We cannot and do not guarantee that you will attain a specific or particular result, and you accept the risk that results differ for each individual. The health, fitness, and nutrition success depends on each individual’s background, dedication, desire, and motivation. As with any health-related program or service, your results may vary, and will be based on many variables, including but not limited to, your individual capacity, life experience, unique health and genetic profile, starting point, expertise, and level of commitment.
If this article doesn’t have all that you are looking for, there are some other example disclaimers in our article about disclaimers that fitness professionals should include on their websites, or our article on 12 liability risks for fitness professionals.