10 Ethical Issues Facing Health/Fitness Professionals

Fitness Expert

1. Business practices. The underlying precept that should guide all business-related endeavors by health/fitness professionals is honesty. Health/fitness professionals have a fundamental responsibility to be both truthful and law-abiding. Their words and behavior should be totally free from deceit, fraud, and dishonesty. Honesty involves more than merely avoiding criminal or illegal acts. Rather, it is the cornerstone of having character and respect for others.

2. Supplements. The sale of supplements in the United States is a multibillion dollar-a-year industry. These products are characterized by a spurious misleading array of unsubstantiated, more-often-than-not false, claims. Unregulated by the federal government, supplements tend to be marketed to individuals who are looking for an easy quick fix to whatever ails them. Health/fitness professionals should refer anyone whom they believe may need to augment his or her diet to either a registered dietitian or a physician for medically sound advice in this area.

3. Professional boundaries. A relationship between health/fitness professionals and the individuals they serve should be beyond reproach at all times. Any such relationship should be based on mutual respect, which involves behaving appropriately whatever the situation. Examples of inappropriate comportment that should be strictly avoided include any conversation or physical contact of a sexual nature and wearing workout attire that elicits an improper perception.

4. Client confidentiality. Health/fitness professionals have a responsibility to not share (verbally or in writing) information of a personal nature concerning individuals with whom they work. In addition, they should take whatever steps are necessary, within the confines of the law, to ensure that any such information, including health status, fitness assessments, and workout records, is secure from being inappropriately accessed by others.

5. Conflict of interest. Health/fitness professionals should avoid any behavior or actions with those with whom they work that represent or give the appearance of a conflict of interest. All such interactions should be as devoid of inappropriate bias as possible. Any concern regarding the possibility of undue bias should be discussed and resolved to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.

6. Professional certifications. Health/fitness professionals should obtain and maintain the certifications and specialty certificates that are appropriate for their chosen area of professional pursuit. These certifications and certificates should only be earned from nationally recognized and accredited organizations. The responsibility for exhibiting professional competence also includes up-to-date certification in both automated external defibrillation and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

7. Professional representation of skills, abilities, and knowledge. Health/fitness professionals should not represent themselves in a misleading or deceptive manner to those with whom they interact. Such misrepresentation is a violation of professional ethics that compromises the level of trust and integrity that are essential components of appropriate professional conduct. As such, health/fitness professionals should only provide services and advice in those areas in which they are qualified by education, experience, and training.

8. Intellectual property. Health/fitness professionals should exhibit the utmost respect for the intellectual property of others. They should not plagiarize or take credit for the work of others. Furthermore, they should not misrepresent the positions of others to reinforce their own viewpoints.

9. Medical advice. Health/fitness professionals should not provide medical advice to other individuals, unless they are legally permitted and qualified to do so. In this regard, they must be fully aware of what is permissible by law in a particular area. For example, diagnosing health-related conditions, recommending treatment for such conditions, and dispensing nutritional advice are governed by established scope-of-practice guidelines and regulations.

10. Professional education. Health/fitness professionals must stay current in their field. In that regard, they should engage in continuing education activities to ensure that their professional knowledge base, relative to their professional endeavors, is always up-to-date. Lifelong learning is the ongoing responsibility of every dedicated health/fitness professional.

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.