In the current climate of an epidemic of obesity, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity paired with a multi-billion dollar diet industry and a strong interest among the general public in improving eating habits and increasing physical activity, fitness professionals are on the front lines in helping the public to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Fitness professionals provide an essential service to their clients, to the industry, and the community at-large when they provide credible, practical, and relevant nutrition information to clients while staying within their professional scope of practice.
Ultimately, an individual fitness professional’s scope of practice as it relates to nutrition is determined by state policies and regulations, education and experience, and competencies and skills. While this implies that the nutrition-related scope of practice may vary among fitness professionals, there are certain actions that are within the scope of practice of all fitness professionals.
For example, it is within the scope of practice of all fitness professionals to share dietary advice endorsed or developed by the federal government, especially the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPlate recommendations.
Fitness professionals who hold a NCCA-accredited fitness certification that provide basic nutrition information and those who have undertaken nutrition continuing education should be prepared to discuss:
- Principles of good nutrition and food preparation
- Food to be included in the normal daily diet
- Essential nutrients needed by the body
- Actions of nutrients on the body
- Effects of deficiencies or excesses of nutrients
- How nutrient requirements vary through the lifecycle
- Information about nutrients contained in foods or supplements
Fitness professionals who do not feel comfortable sharing this information are strongly encouraged to undergo continuing education to further develop nutrition competency and skills and to develop relationships with registered dietitians or other qualified health professionals who can provide this type of information. It is, however, within the fitness professional’s scope of practice to distribute and disseminate information or programs which have been developed by a registered dietitian.
The actions that are outside the scope of practice of fitness professionals include, but may not be limited to, the following:
· Individualized nutrition recommendations or meal planning other than that which is available through government guidelines and recommendations, or has been developed and endorsed by a registered dietitian or physician
· Nutritional assessment to determine nutritional needs and to recommend nutritional intake
· Specific recommendations or programming for nutrient or nutritional intake, caloric intake, or specialty diets
· Nutritional counseling, education, or advice aimed to prevent, treat, or cure a disease or condition, or other acts that may be perceived as medical nutrition therapy
· Development, administration, evaluation and consultation regarding nutritional care standards or the nutrition care process
· Recommending, prescribing, selling, or supplying nutritional supplements to clients
· Promotion or identification of oneself as a “nutritionist” or “dietitian”
Engaging in these activities can place a client’s health and safety at risk and possibly expose the fitness professional to disciplinary action and litigation. To ensure maximal client safety and compliance with state policies and laws, it is essential that the fitness professional recognize when it is appropriate to refer to a registered dietitian or physician. ACE recognizes that some fitness and health clubs encourage or require their employees to sell nutritional supplements. If this is a condition of employment, ACE suggests fitness professionals should have adequate insurance coverage to assist them should a problem arise.