Association for Nutrition (AfN) has recently succeeded in taking action against two charlatan organisations, Fitness Industry Training and College for Nutrition. In an exclusive interview with PARN, Leonie Milliner, Chief Executive of AfN, spoke about the experience.
College for Nutrition raised concerns when they began masquerading as “The Worlds [sic] Largest Nutrition College” and making false claims about the recognition given to their qualifications.
Milliner explained how the organisation came to her attention: “We have an accredited course provider called Future Fit Training, whose nutrition courses we endorse for the wider workforce. They became aware of a company called Fitness Industry Training offering online nutrition courses remarkably similar to their own. Our course provider came to us, and we were utterly shocked when we saw the claims that Fitness Industry Training and College for Nutrition were making about the stature of their qualifications. If you’re going to be an awarding body, you have to be recognised by Ofqual, and they are not listed.
“We couldn’t find any record of the owner having trained or qualified in nutrition and dietetics; he had no professional background to offer any qualification in nutrition. He’d plagiarised large sections of our website, to such an extent that there were sentences about AfN in the UK, which is really quite shocking!”
Legal action against plagiarism and false advertising
Following a letter from AfN’s solicitor, College for Nutrition took their site offline. It was only to resurface a month later, however, mirroring AfN’s website without directly plagiarising the professional body. Milliner’s team were forced to take a different approach: “The website was making other claims, like using an image of Jesus College Cambridge, which made it appear to be a much more established organisation than it actually was. Our solicitor’s advice was to make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, who I can’t praise highly enough for their efficiency in dealing with our case.
“The particularly damning thing about the College for Nutrition is the fact that they didn’t respond to the ASA. If they were an established provider of qualifications with a reputation to uphold, they would have cooperated with governmental authorities.”
Harmful consequences for professional bodies
Underhand business practice from organisations like College for Nutrition can have damaging consequences for qualified professionals across all fields, as well as for the public. Milliner explained: “With the rise of the internet and social media, there are lots of discount courses being advertised. A lot of people are not aware of the potential dangers of these courses if they were then to set up a practice. I think that's a significant issue for the professions.
“As a voluntary regulator/professional body, it’s really important for us at AfN that our registrants and course providers know that we will take action if people misrepresent their relationship to us or their offer to the community. As a charity we have a duty to work in the public interest and to take action, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Elaborating further, Milliner explained that tackling the issue at its source is another responsibility of professional bodies: “I think it’s partly a professional body’s role to inform and educate those [underqualified] providers of courses. Often they need some form of education: they might not be aware of the damage they’re doing. It’s about taking a ‘let’s try and solve this together’ approach; it’s only when that approach fails that you take action.”
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