Mississippi has the second largest obesity rate in the U.S.
So, you’d think officials in the state would welcome help from a Mississippian who wants to help out with diet and exercise plans, right?
Fat chance. When Donna Harris, launched a small business ($99 for an eight-week course of diet and exercise training), her potential clients were excited and hopeful. Dozens of people had signed up, according to the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger.
Here’s what happened next, according to a report at Reason:
On January 22, Harris received a cease-and-desist letter from the Mississippi Department of Health. Talking about healthy eating on Facebook and getting paid to do it, the department said, could trigger a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. In the eyes of the state, Harris was an unlicensed dietitian—and apparently enough of a threat to public safety that she might need to be put behind bars.
“When I learned I would have to cancel my weight-loss class, I was so devastated,” said Harris in a statement. “People were counting on me and they were so excited about learning how to lose weight in a healthy way, and they were so disappointed when I told them I was not going to be able to go through with the program.”
Harris is a personal trainer who makes no pretense of being a licensed dietitian. Clients were signing up knowing Harris’ qualifications and hoping to emerge from the course weighing less and healthier.
The Mississippi Justice Institute, a nonprofit, has taken up Harris case and filed a lawsuit on her behalf. The lawsuit claims that the state of Mississippi is impeding Harris’ First Amendment right to speak freely about weight loss and health.
What would it take for her to get a license to teach her classes?
Getting a permission slip to speak freely about healthy diets is no easy task in Mississippi. It requires a bachelor’s degree and more than 1,200 hours of supervised practice. Starting in 2024, the license will require a graduate degree. Harris actually has one of those—a master’s degree in occupational therapy, to go along with her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food science—but not the one the state will soon require.
Unfortunately, Mississippi is just one of a number of states that has set up stringent regulations for anyone wanting to give diet and exercise tips. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to cut back on licensing requirements.
Meanwhile, however, Florida officials shut down a Fort Walton woman who was giving diet tips online.
Over-regulation is not only putting people out of work—it seems that in Mississippi and Florida it is making people, not just state regulation codes, fatter.