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Clayton College Closed? No Problem.

21 July 2010. According to Consumer Health Digest, Clayton College of Natural Health (CCNH), a diploma mill notorious for selling health-related "degrees," is shutting down. The non-accredited correspondence school boasts such "graduates" as Jillian McKeith, Robert O. Young, and Hulda Clark. Future "nutritionists" or "naturopaths" looking for a quick degree to impress the unsuspecting need not worry. The folks at Clayton claim that the recession has been bad for business, but the stagnant economy has not deterred the folks at a place called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN). They've taken out an ad on Google for "Clayton College" searches, with the heading Clayton College Closed. Clicking on the link takes you to an IIN page where you are told that a "limited number" of partial tuition scholarships are available to students "enrolled" at Clayton College. IIN promises:

We can help you stay on track and become a certified Health Coach with a deep knowledge of holistic nutrition and wellness.

A certified "health coach"? Whatever it is, you can start practicing midway through the program, which is delivered on a "gorgeous red iPod completely customized with the course materials including, video, audio, lectures from world-renowned experts, and more." According to IIN:

Midway through the program, you will receive a certificate to start seeing paying clients. (Many students actually earn back their tuition investment before they even graduate!) You can even continue working while being a student. Plus there is no need to take prerequisite courses or to put yourself in deep debt with expensive school loans.

No prerequisites for a degree you can earn in a short time that certifies you to guide other people's health? What a pitch!

Those enticed by the notion of no prerequisites will be happy to know that the "skills you learn at IIN are tailored to the self-employed and have been equated by some with getting a college degree in business in a quarter of the time (and a fraction of the cost)." No mention is made of who this "some" might be or what equation they used to determine this fantastic claim.

According to the IIN website, IIN "is proud to be licensed by the State of New York Education Department as of November 2009." The careful reader will recognize that "licensed by" is not the same as "accredited by." State departments of education do not do accrediting of schools.

IIN was founded by Joshua Rosenthal in 1993, whose article on "boosting" your health was published by the Huffington Post. He offers such advice as "drink more water," "have healthy relationships," and "develop a spiritual practice." According to a blurb on Amazon, Rosenthal

is a trained therapist with a Masters [sic] of Science in Education, specializing in counseling. With over 25 years' experience in the fields of whole foods, personal coaching, curriculum development, teaching and nutritional counseling, he is a highly sensitive healer....

A "highly sensitive healer" offering a certificate to "health coaches" that requires no prerequisite training in biology, physiology, anatomy, genetics, or the like. For a modest fee, of course. What a concept!

In 2005, Rosenthal's book Integrative Nutrition: The Future of Nutrition was published by Integrative Nutrition Publishing, Inc. The publisher thinks very highly of the book and its follow-up, the Integrative Nutrition Journal. You don't suppose he's publishing this stuff himself, do you? It makes sense. There are no prerequisites for self-publishing.

In an interview with Mike Adams of Natural News, Rosenthal reveals that he got interested in health as a child when he noticed that many doctors were fat smokers and very unhealthy. He also had his own "health concerns ... [that] ... were not successfully addressed by the medical system." Later in life he discovered an amazing principle: "one person's food can be another person's poison." He calls this the principle of bio-individuality. This is one of the most wonderful non-falsifiable claims ever invented. IIN health coaches can never be proven wrong. If the recommended diet doesn't improve your sense of well-being, that is taken as proof that it is the wrong diet for you. Try another one. If that fails, keep repeating the process until you feel better. If you never feel better, you just haven't found the right diet for you yet. Keep trying. That is, keep coming in for a consultation.

Rosenthal's Aha! moment came when he

encountered someone on a vegetarian diet. I was not very evolved in my own eating, but this person seemed remarkably different than anyone else I had known. It was through him that I pieced together the link between food and mood, and through that process, the connection between food and health.

Rosenthal was apparently not very evolved in his thinking at that time, either. It didn't occur to him, I guess, that the vegetarianism may have been an effect rather than a cause of this person's being "remarkable." For all he knew, the diet may have been a phase the fellow was going through. Usually, however, it is not wise to generalize from a single case.

Rosenthal wants to transform the world:

We also train our students to become health counselors, sharing this information [of bio-individuality] with family and friends, communities and the public. Our mission is to play a crucial role in improving the health and happiness of people in America, and create a ripple effect that transforms the world through that process.

You might as well think big about your product, especially since there are no prerequisites for grandiosity.

Rosenthal says there are two things unique to IIN. "One is that we're the only school in the world that teaches all the different dietary theories." He mentions the raw food diet, the macrobiotic diet, and the blood-type diet. To call these beliefs about foods "theories" is to grant them a status they don't deserve. Apparently, Rosenthal and his graduates have some way of cherry-picking various fad diets and making different recommendations to each client as to what he or she should eat or avoid. The second unique feature of IIN, according to Rosenthal, is that food is not as important to health as "healthy, happy relationships, physical activity, a fulfilling career, and a spiritual practice." What metric he uses to determine anything, however, is apparently a carefully guarded secret.

Far be it from me to contradict the notion that having a healthy diet, being physically active, loving your job, and having caring friends and family are good for you. That you can learn much in a correspondence course about these things that you couldn't learn on your own is something I'm having trouble digesting.

update May 21 2012 Clayton College is back as Coltsfoot College of Natural Health. They didn't even bother to change the html code for the new webpage! The title of the page is still "Clayton College of Natural Health offers self-paced distance learning degree and certificate programs in traditional naturopathy, natural health, holistic nutrition, iridology studies, herbal studies and healthcare professional studies and companion animal studies."

In November 2010, a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham, seeking recoveries on behalf of thousands of adults enrolled in prepaid distance education programs at Clayton College of Natural Health, Inc. The lawsuit came in the wake of CCNH’s announcement in July 2010 that it was suddenly closing the school and its distance education programs after more than 20 years of operation. The lawsuit alleges that at the time of the closing, CCNH had already collected tens of millions of dollars in tuition from Plaintiffs and a class of similarly situated persons for programs that CCNH summarily stopped providing. After the abrupt termination of its distance education programs, CCNH failed to refund tuition, according to the lawsuit. [/update]

further reading

The China Study Revisited: New Analysis of Raw Data Doesn’t Support Vegetarian Ideology by Harriet Hall

Rosenthal and his students might want to consider Dr. Hall's analysis of vegetarian diets. Rosenthal argues that one of our "unhealthy" habits is eating too much protein. That is the thesis of T. Colin Campbell and his son in the China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. Dr. Hall points out that while there are many studies that show vegetarians are "healthy," none of them demonstrate that it's not the ample consumption of fruits and vegetables, rather than the exclusion of meat, that make a vegetarian diet healthful. Surely, a man who has studied diets for so many years is aware of the fact that the diets of the African Maasai and the Alaskan Inuit were not vegetable-based, yet their diets could be said to be healthy. The Maasai eat a diet high in animal protein (meat, milk and blood from their cows), but they have low blood cholesterol levels and low rates of heart disease. The Inuit who ate an animal-based, very high protein, high fat diet, had practically no heart disease.

While looking for something to cherry-pick for a "bio-individuality" recommendation, Rosenthal and his students might consider the following: (1) The variable “death from all cancers” is four times as strongly associated with plant protein as with animal protein; and (2) plant protein, especially wheat protein, is more strongly correlated than animal protein with cardiovascular disease. At least that is what the data in the China study show.

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