The petition filed by King’s College London student dietitian and co-founder of Fight the Fads website Harriet Smith reads: “Currently, due to lack of regulation, anyone can set up and practice as a nutritionist/nutritional therapist, meaning there is no real protection for consumers.
“The [UK] Government should take action to prevent unqualified people from potentially putting people’s health at risk.”
Since going live on 4th November, 2,499 people have signed the petition and Smith and her fellow Fight the Fads founders Caroline Day and Elisabeth Cresta have taken to Twitter and mainstream media to rally more support for the call.
Under UK rules, the government must respond to petitions signed by 10,000 people.
If a petition gets 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in parliament.
The Fight the Fads student nutritionists were spurred on by an article published in UK tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail headlined ‘How to become a ‘clean eating’ guru… in a MONTH!’.
They said the article published at the end of October devalued the nutrition profession and created a “false illusion” that anyone could become a qualified nutritionist.
“It is not surprising that social media is awash with unqualified individuals peddling incorrect and potentially dangerous nutritional advice!” the trio wrote in a blog post, which quoted registered nutritionists on their solid qualifications and work experience.
The petition also follows a move from the Irish government to protect the term dietitian.
Yet, as is the case in the UK and Northern Ireland, the term nutritionist was left out in the cold with no legal protection to say who can and cannot boast the job title.
At the time the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) told us the move to protect the term dietitian was positive, but a lack of protection for nutritionists was a loophole and a threat to public health.
“It’s a good idea we welcome but unfortunately it’s probably not going to stop all the quackery,” said INDI communications manager Louise Reynolds.
“The whole Instagram and social media space is teeming with ex-models and celebrities calling themselves nutritionists. There we can only try to point out inaccuracies.”
Supporter of the petition and registered nutritionist Sarah Jackson echoed these concerns on the Fight the Fads website.
“Nutritionists are gaining a bad reputation and it is mainly down to Registered Nutritionists not being used as a source of information in these glossy magazines or snappy headlines,” said Jackson, who is company nutritionist for the British food service chain Mitchells and Butlers.
“We are being put in the same category as ‘holistic nutritional coaches’ who are seen to jump on to trendy ingredients and fad diets. Evidence based, scientific knowledge may not be the most ‘instragrammable’ or ‘glossiest’ articles to read now, but this can change with Registered Nutritionist being at the heart of these influential, nationwide articles.”
A nutritionist by any other name
The petition says there is “very little understanding” of how a registered nutritionist compares to job titles like nutritional therapist, nutritionist and nutrition advisor.
It says the UK’s voluntary register of nutritionists from the Association for Nutrition goes largely unnoticed by the media and public.
“It’s vital that we increase the awareness of this register so that people understand where to go to for accurate, evidence based advice.”
After the original publication of this article, the Association for Nutrition told us: "We support the raising of the issue that the public need protecting from non-evidence-based nutrition advice and a core objective for the Association for Nutrition is the protection of both title and function for Registered Nutritionists.
"This would protect the public by ensuring that those providing nutrition advice are suitably qualified, competent and accountable."