Fingering the Phony Nutritionists of the Yellow Pages

From Newsgroups:
Original Date: 17 Sep 1996
Subj : Unqualified nutritionists common

This is re-posted from the PAIN newsgroup. I will remember this next time I see a nutritionist on TV or in the paper, if the advice seems off the wall. Lots of self-appointed experts out there in every field, and FMS people, living with such a lack of 'answers,' may be very susceptible. Pays to do our own research and grant credibility with great care to unknown people.

re-posted by

Fingering the Phony Nutritionists of the Yellow Pages

Seekers of responsible nutrition counselors need to be especially careful when they let their "fingers do the walking" through the Yellow Pages. A 32-state survey sponsored by the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) found that consumers had less than a fifty-fifty chance of finding a reliable "nutritionist" through the directory. The study provides a clear indication of the extent of nutritional pseudomedicine. Multitudinous pseudo-experts, many with questionable degrees and certificates, have been dispensing bad advice, much of which leads to expensive and useless supplementation and invalid or inappropriate diagnostics.

"The Biggest Ad in the Yellow Pages"

Kurt W. Donsbach, D.C., who apparently holds several advanced "degrees" from unaccredited institutions, in 1978 founded his own unaccredited school, Donsbach University (later renamed the International University for Nutrition Education), a notorious source of "mail-order" degrees. Donsbach claimed that his "university" had graduated over a thousand people before it closed. NINE[sup TM] -- The National Institute of Nutritional Education -- issued the title CN[sup TM] (Certified Nutritionist) to about 735 people and "educated" 7,000 others between 1980 and 1993, according to the January 1993 issue of Health Foods Business. NINE's introductory mailing states that its program "is designed to supplement professions with nutritional counseling in such fields as chiropractics [sic], counseling, education, herbology, nutrition, medicine, pharmacology, and psychology . . . ." (NF co-editor Jack Raso has described many sources of health-related pseudocredentials in Mystical Diets and '"Alternative" Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide, both published by Prometheus Books.)

Donsbach U. alum Gary Pace was an electrical engineer before he turned to a career in nutrition and duped hundreds of Long Island, New York residents. In 1985, New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams filed a civil suit against him, accusing him of practicing medicine without a license, false advertising, and illegal use of educational credentials. Pace's schemes, said Abrams, "induced hundreds of customers to pay hundreds of dollars to him for improper physical examinations [including breast and pelvic exams], worthless laboratory tests [hair analysis and herbal crystallization analysis], bogus nutritional advice, and unnecessary vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements." In a July 1985 issue of Newsday, one of his patients revealed that she had consulted him "because he had the biggest ad in the Yellow Pages."

The 1982-1985 NCAHF Study

In the January/February 1986 issue of its newsletter, NCAHF reported the results of the first study of nutrition practitioners listed in the Yellow Pages. Using information from ads and listings published in the preceding four years, the council categorized practitioners from 41 areas in 17 states as "clearly spurious," "suspicious," "undeterminable [ sic]," and "apparently qualified." Only 13% of 439 "nutritionists" listed in the Yellow Pages appeared qualified, 24% were ranked as "clearly spurious," 31% were "suspicious," and 31% were "undeterminable." Under the heading "Dietitians," 8% of the 53 entrants were considered spurious. In a subsection under the heading "Physicians and Surgeons" titled "Nutrition," 46% of the 24 entrants were also deemed spurious, and none was categorized as "apparently qualified." Their offerings included acupuncture, chelation therapy, life extension, and orthomolecular medicine.

I decided to broaden the scope of this study. As coordinator of NCAHF's Task Force on Nutrition Diploma Mills, I was especially interested in identifying all of the operational degree mills in the U.S. and in determining which ones so-called nutritionists patronized most.

[part missing, sorry]

Study Design

The 1992-1993 study differed from the original study in one important way: In the latter, the ranking of practitioners was based solely on information in the ad or listing; in the recent study, volunteers ranked practitioners in their respective areas on the basis of interviews or familiarity with the practitioners.

Prospective volunteers were contacted in September 1992. State legislative chairpersons with The American Dietetic Association provided many contacts. The volunteers consisted of registered dietitians, public health nutritionists, dietetic interns, and undergraduate and graduate nutrition students. Data were collected from 64 areas in 32 states. Volunteers were asked to submit copies of: (1) all listings under the headings "Dietitians" and "Nutritionists"; (2) all listings under the subheadings "Nutrition" and "Preventive Medicine" (under "Physicians and Surgeons"); and (3) all corresponding ads. However, I also received unsolicited listings under other headings, including "Health & Diet Products," "Health, Fitness & Nutrition Consultants," and "Weight Control Services." Volunteers ranked practitioners according to the following criteria.


The business utilized invalid methods of treatment, diagnosis, or nutritional assessment (e.g., applied kinesiology, chelation therapy, hair analysis, and iridology) or publicized a degree from an unaccredited school. Spurious businesses included supplement distributors and multilevelmarketing (MLM) companies such as Herbalife, Nu Skin, and Sunrider.


The practitioner did not comply with the volunteer's request for information on credentials or methods utilized.


The practitioner was a registered dietitian (R.D.) or had a nutrition-related degree from an accredited institution.


The above categories did not befit the practitioner or business; for example, a senior citizen center or a provider of enteral nutrition products to healthcare facilities.

Volunteers were asked to contact every business they did not recognize as reliable and to obtain information about credentials, methods, and, if possible, advice to clients.

Health Food Stores, Chiropractors, Naturopaths et al.

Consumers had a much better chance (84%) of finding a responsible nutrition practitioner through listings under the heading "Dietitians" than through those under the headings "Nutritionists" (40%) and "Physicians" (33%). Of the 231 entrants listed under "Dietitians," 21 (9%) were judged "spurious." These included Diet Center facilities, distributors for MLM companies such as Herbalife, a fake nutritionist with a bogus doctorate who practiced iridology, a former vitamin company salesman who used hair analysis, and numerous General Nutrition Corporation (GNC) outlets. When a GNC employee was asked why her store was listed under "Dietitians," she replied: "Because we have the literature in the store to help people." Spurious "dietitians" were found in eight states. New York, North Carolina, and California had the highest percentages. For six states, either there was no "Dietitians" heading or volunteers did not provide the listings under this heading.

A word is in order concerning the debatable categorization of Diet Center facilities as "spurious." All of the facilities are franchises. Although the corporate staff includes registered dietitians, only non-health professionals -- typically former clients -- counsel dieters, who are required to take a nutritional supplement. The facilities offer prepackaged cuisine. Certainly, listing such a business, whatever its merits, under the heading "Dietitians" is misleading.

Of the 618 entrants listed under the heading "Nutritionists," 358 (5896) were either spurious or suspicious. Sixty-three percent of ads and boxed listings under this heading were for bogus nutritionists, many of whom placed the biggest ads. For thirteen states, at least half of the listings represented such practitioners. The top five states were Arkansas (one listing), New Mexico (61%), Arizona (59%), Nevada (58%), and Florida (55%). New Mexico and Florida license dietitians and nutritionists.

Of the 286 "spurious" nutritionists, 37 (13%) used hair analysis.

Sixty-nine chiropractors (11%) were listed under "Nutritionists." All were categorized as spurious except one, who employed a registered dietitian to do nutrition counseling. Their offerings included supplements (57%), applied kinesiology (19%), hair analysis (9%), homeopathy (6%), and acupuncture (3%).

Twenty-two of the entrants listed under "Nutritionists" claimed to be naturopaths.

Web page design by Bill Jackson, 1996.

Any comments? Send them to Bill Jackson at

Button pointing leftBack to Fibromyalgia Index Page