Yesterday, CrossFit’s twitter account linked to an op-ed entitled EDITORIAL: New Jersey trying to make dietary advice illegal. Dietitians were quick to respond, criticizing both CrossFit and free speech in nutrition.
One of those angry dietitians stood out: Robyn Flipse. The New Jersey-based dietitian issued an implicit threat:
“Gyms dispensing misinformation about diet have a lot to lose if the licensure bill passes.”
It is true that gyms that give dietary information “have a lot to lose” if states make this speech illegal. That is exactly why CrossFit Inc. is fighting against nutrition licensure in New Jersey and elsewhere. But what do Robyn Flipse and her fellow dietitians consider “misinformation”?
If someone recommended Coca-Cola as a healthy snack, is that misinformation? Not according to Flipse. She did so herself. As the Associated Press reported:
“Robyn Flipse, the dietitian who wrote the sponsored article for Coke, said she would suggest mini-cans of Coke even if she wasn’t being paid.”
Nor was that a one-off transaction. Internal Coca-Cola emails recently acquired by CrossFit show that the Atlanta-based Kellen Company is leveraging Flipse’s dietetic credentials to defend soda on behalf of the soda industry. More on Kellen later.
In case there was any doubt, Coca-Cola’s website identifies Ms. Flipse as one of its “paid consultants.” And RobynFlipse.com lists the numerous companies and trade groups with whom she has worked. The full accounting of her 60+ corporations and association partners includes PepsiCo (through Frito-Lay, Sabra and other brands), Keebler, Dove Chocolate, the American Beverage Association, Monsanto, the Corn Refiners Association, the National Confectioners Association, and many, many others.
As part of her service to the Coca-Cola company, Flipse publicly opposes soda taxes, arguing, “When stores pay soda taxes we all cover those costs in higher prices for our groceries.”
So Flipse opposes government intervention when it comes to limiting soda consumption. Yet she supports it when it punishes fitness trainers for giving nutrition advice. What might explain this discrepancy?
Promoting soda and sugar as health food clearly counts as acceptable, accurate nutrition advice in Flipse’s book. So, what type of nutrition advice does Flipse label “misinformation”? Would she, for example, object to CrossFit’s recommendation to “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar”?
Early this year the New Jersey Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (NJAND) had Flipse speak on “Food Cults.” Two of her slides criticized “paramilitary-style fitness regimes” and featured screenshots of the CrossFit website and a Paleo Diet book. The implication is clear: CrossFit affiliates and the Paleo Diet are scary cults. Beware!
Just like the NSCA and ACSM, dietitians like Flipse engage in fear-mongering tactics with regard to CrossFit affiliates in an attempt to justify anti-competitive regulation. They do not want to directly compete with CrossFit at making people fitter and healthier. Instead, they resort to myths and lobbying.
Back to the Kellen Company, which employs Flipse on the scientific advisory board of its Calorie Control Council. Kellen also runs the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP) and its U.S. Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREPS). This is the ACSM- and NSCA-backed organization that lobbies for occupational licensure in the fitness industry. Many of these fitness licensure laws would make CrossFit’s affiliate model illegal. Fortunately, CrossFit has successfully prevented fitness licensure from taking hold anywhere in the U.S.
Nutrition licensure laws, however, remain in effect in some U.S. states. These laws have been used to punish CrossFit trainers and affiliates such as Heather Kokesch Del Castillo. The state of Florida conducted an undercover sting operation, then fined and threatened Del Castillo with jail time, just for giving unlicensed nutrition advice. CrossFit is working to remove such senseless laws from the books. Heather is suing the state of Florida to defend her right to speak freely about food to individuals. You can read more about her case against the state of Florida by going to the Institute for Justice website.
It should not surprise anyone to see that the dietitians lobbying to restrict CrossFit affiliates are tied to the food and beverage industry. Who else would object to such basic, common-sense advice? The states that regulate nutrition speech most severely have the highest obesity and diabetes rates. In contrast, states such as New Jersey, New York and California, which regulate it the least, have much lower diabetes rates. No evidence shows that nutrition licensure improves public safety, nor that protecting free speech in nutrition increases the risk to consumers.
The nutrition advice that CrossFit affiliates and trainers provide is only a threat to the bottom line of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the other junk-food companies, most of which seem to have funded Robyn Flipse, RD.