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Dietitian facts for kids

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A dietitian or dietician is an expert in food and nutrition. Dietitians help promote good health through proper eating. They often write custom diets for people. In a medical setting they can give food supplements for those people who cannot get what they need because of swallowing problems. Dietitians want to find, cook and serve tasty, attractive and healthy food to patients, their families and healthcare providers.

In many countries only people with specific degrees or certifications can call themselves dietitians. The term nutritionist is widely used as it is not controlled like the title dietitian, but the word nutritionist can be used without having the qualifications of registered dietitians. A nutritionist is not a dietitian as he is not registered to a national board and does not have the same qualifications. Dietitians are important in the medical multidisciplinary team because they are experts in nutrition and can give advice to doctors, nurses, and other health care workers.

Dietitians supervise the preparation and service of food, help in research, and teach people on how to eat well.

Dietitians in practice

Clinical dietitians

Clinical dietitians work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing care facilities and other health care facilities to provide nutrition therapy to patients with a variety of health conditions, and provide dietary consultations to patients and their families. They confer with other health care professionals to review patients' medical charts and develop individual plans to meet nutritional requirements. Some clinical dietitians will also create or deliver outpatient or public education programs in health and nutrition. Clinical dietitians may provide specialized services in areas of nourishment and diets, tube feedings (called enteral nutrition), and intravenous feedings (called parenteral nutrition) such as total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or peripheral parenteral nutrition (PPN). They work as a team with the physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, pharmacists, speech therapists, social workers, nurses, dietetic technicians, psychologists and other specialists to provide care to patients. Some clinical dietitians have dual responsibilities with patient nutrition therapy and in food service or research (described below).

Community dietitians

Community dietitians work with wellness programs, public health agencies, home care agencies, and health maintenance organizations. These dietitians apply and distribute knowledge about food and nutrition to individuals and groups of specific categories, life-styles and geographic areas in order to promote health. They often focus on the needs of the elderly, children, or other individuals with special needs or limited access to healthy food. Some community dietitians conduct home visits for patients who are too physically ill to attend consultations in health facilities in order to provide care and instruction on grocery shopping and food preparation.

Foodservice dietitians

Foodservice dietitians or managers are responsible for large-scale food planning and service. They coordinate, assess and plan foodservice processes in health care facilities, school food-service programs, prisons, restaurants, and company cafeterias. These dietitians may perform audits of their departments to ensure quality control and food safety standards, and launch new menus and various programs within their institution to meet health and nutritional requirements. They train and supervise other food service workers such as kitchen staff, delivery staff, and dietary assistants or aides.

Gerontological dietitians

Gerontological dietitians are specialists in nutrition and aging. They work in nursing homes, community-based aged care agencies, government agencies in aging policy, and in higher education in the field of gerontology (the study of aging).

Neonatal dietitians

Neonatal dietitians provide individualized medical nutrition therapy for critically ill premature newborns. They are considered a part of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit's medical team. The neonatal dietitian performs clinical assessment of patients, designs nutrition protocols and quality improvement initiatives with the medical team, develops enteral and parenteral regimens, helps establish and promote lactation/breastfeeding guidelines and often oversees the management of infection prevention in the handling, storage, and delivery of nutritional products.

Pediatric dietitians

Pediatric dietitians provide nutrition and health advice for infants, children, and adolescents. They focus on early nutritional needs, and often work closely with doctors, school health services, clinics, hospitals and government agencies, in developing and implementing treatment plans for children with eating disorders, food allergies, or any condition where a child's diet factors into the equation, such as childhood obesity.

Research dietitians

Research dietitians may focus on social sciences or health services research, for example, investigate the impact of health policies or behaviour change, or evaluate program effectiveness. They may survey food-service systems management in order to guide quality improvement. Some research dietitians study the biochemical aspects of nutrient interaction within the body. In universities, they also may have teaching responsibilities. Some clinical dietitians' roles involve research in addition to their patients care workload.

Administrative dietitians

Administrative or management dietitians oversee and direct all aspects of clinical dietetics service, food policy and/or large-scale meal service operations in hospitals, government agencies, company cafeterias, prisons, and schools. They recruit, train and supervise employees of dietetics departments including dietitians and other personnel. They set department goals, policies and procedures; procurement, equipment and supplies; ensure safety and sanitation standards in foodservice; and administer budget management.

Business dietitians

Business dietitians serve as resource people in food and nutrition through business, marketing and communications. Dietitians' expertise in nutrition is often solicited in the media—for example for expert guest opinions on television and radio news or cooking shows, columns for a newspaper or magazine, or resources for restaurants on recipe development and critique. Business dietitians may author books or corporate newsletters on nutrition and wellness. They also work as sales representatives for food manufacturing companies that provide nutritional supplements and tube feeding supplies.

Consultant dietitians

Consultant dietitians are those who are in private practice or practice on a contractual basis with health care facilities or corporations, such as used in Australia, Canada and the United States. Consultant dietitians contract independently to provide nutrition or health related consultation and educational programs to individuals and health care facilities as well as sports teams, fitness clubs, and other health related businesses and corporations.

Other nutrition personnel

These titles are general designations of nutrition personnel. Specific titles may vary across countries, jurisdictions and employment settings. In particular the title nutritionist is, in some countries, unregulated so anyone may claim to be a nutritionist.

Dietetic technicians

Dietetic technicians are involved in planning, implementing and monitoring nutritional programs and services in facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools. They assist in education and assessment of clients' dietary needs, and may specialize in nutritional care or foodservice management. Dietetic technicians usually work with, and under the supervision of, a registered dietitian.

The training requirements and professional regulation of dietetic technicians vary across countries, but usually include some formal (postsecondary) training in dietetics and nutrition care. In jurisdictions where the profession is regulated, such as in the United States, the title "Dietetic Technician, Registered" (DTR) may be used.


In Canada, there are national standards for academic training and qualifications for dietetic technicians, according to CSNM (the Canadian Society for Nutrition Management). In Ontario, Conestoga College offers a diploma program with a clinical focus for dietetic technicians.

United States

In the United States, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics confers the "Dietetic Technician, Registered" (DTR) credentials. Qualified DTRs possess a specialized associate degree from community college programs which are accredited by the academy's Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics Education (ACEND). They must complete a dietetic internship with a minimum of 450 supervised practice hours in the areas of foodservice theory and management, community dietetics, and clinical dietetics. They must also pass a national registration examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the academy. The DTR is an academy-credentialed nutrition practitioner who works independently in many nutrition settings; however, when performing clinical dietetics, they must work under the supervision of a Registered Dietitian. Some states have legislation specifying the scope of practice for the DTR in medical nutrition therapy settings.

Effective June 1, 2009, a new pathway to becoming a Registered Dietetic Technician became available from the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Students may take the DTR examination without attending an internship after completion of a Baccalaureate degree granted by a US regionally accredited college/university, or foreign equivalent, and completion of an ACEND Didactic Program in dietetics or Coordinated Program in dietetics. Applicants must take and pass the CDR Dietetic Technician Registration Exam to qualify for the DTR credential.

As for Registered Dietitians, in many cases the title "Dietetic Technician" is regulated by individual states. For instance, according to the California Business and Professions Code Section 2585-2586.8:

Any person representing himself or herself as a dietetic technician, registered shall possess all of the following qualifications:

  1. Be 18 years of age or older.
  2. Satisfactory completion of appropriate academic requirements and receipt of an associate's degree or higher from a college or university accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or other regional accreditation agency.
  3. Satisfactory completion of the dietetic technician program requirements by an accredited public or private agency or institution recognized by the State Department of Health Services including not less than 450 hours of supervised practice.
  4. Satisfactory completion of an examination administered by a public or private agency or institution recognized by the State Department of Health Services to administer the examination.
  5. Satisfactory completion of continuing education requirements established by a public or private agency or institution recognized by the State Department of Health Services to establish the requirements.

Dietary assistants

Dietary assistants, also known as "nutrition assistants" or "dietary aides", assist dietitians and other nutrition professionals to maintain nutritional care for patients and groups with special dietary needs. They assist in preparing food in hospitals, childcare centres, and aged care facilities.

Dietary aides in some countries might also carry out a simple initial health screening for newly admitted patients in medical facilities, and inform the dietitian if any screened patients requires a dietitian's expertise for further assessments or interventions.

Dietary clerks

Dietary clerks, also sometimes known as "medical diet clerks" or "dietary workers", prepare dietary information for use by kitchen personnel in preparation of foods for hospital patients following standards established by a dietitian. They examine diet orders, prepare meal trays, maintain the storage area for food supplies, and ensure practice of sanitary procedures. They may operate computers to enter and retrieve data on patients' caloric requirements and intake, or to track financial information. Dietary workers are typically trained on the job.

Dietary managers

Dietary managers supervise the production and distribution of meals, as well as the budgeting and purchasing of food and the hiring, training and scheduling of support staff in various types of workplaces offering larger scale foodservices, such as hospitals, nursing homes, school and college cafeterias, restaurants, correction facilities and catering services. They assure their department is compliant with food safety regulations, and that the food served meets dietary requirements established by a dietitian.

Training requirements vary across jurisdictions and employment settings. Dietary management is not usually subject to professional regulation, although voluntary certification is preferred by many employers.

  • In Canada, dietary managers with recognized training in areas such as diet therapy, menu planning, food safety and food production may become members of the Canadian Society of Nutrition Management (CSNM).
  • In the United States, "Certified Dietary Managers" are certified by the credentialing agency known as the Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals (ANFP). This agency also certifies a professional known as a "Certified Food Protection Professional". The ANFP certifies specific programs to meet its educational requirements, including courses in culinary management, clinical nutrition, and food safety. In addition, there are supervised practice requirements and a certification exam that must be passed.

Dietary hosts

Dietary hosts/hostesses, also known as "food service aides", assist in patient tray services in hospitals and other health care settings, usually under the supervision of the dietary manager. They distribute menus, and prepare, deliver and bring back meal trays. Usually no specific training is required for workers in this category.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Dietista nutricionista para niños

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