The Role of the Dietitian

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The first dietitians (with the exception of those concerned mainly with food service provision) worked mainly in hospitals. Clinical dietetics and the acute hospital service still claim a large proportion of the graduates from dietetics but other areas of work are increasingly becoming more important. In the United Kingdom, changes in the emphasis of health care, particularly the change from acute (hospital) care to care in the primary health care setting, has resulted in a marked increase in the number of dietitians based in primary care.

Dietitians also have many other roles outside the health services. Increasingly practitioners work with government agencies, for example, in dietary surveys of the population, in execution and evaluation of nutrition intervention programs, and advising on the practical application of policy. In industry, they may work as advisors to food companies, wholesale and retail suppliers of food, and with companies producing specialized dietary products. In addition, dietitians are increasingly working independently as consultants, for example, in private practice, journalism, and sports nutrition. The scope of the dietitians' work is illustrated by Table 1, which lists the special interest groups for dietitians in the United Kingdom.

Whatever aspect of work a dietitian chooses, one of his or her primary roles will be that of an educator, whether this be in assisting individuals to understand and apply a therapeutic regimen; teaching doctors, nurses, or other health professionals about nutrition and dietetics so that they may carry out their own role more effectively; teaching groups of people about aspects of preventative nutrition; or writing an article for the scientific or lay press. The ability to communicate is therefore central to every dietitian's role.

Table 1 Specialist groups and special interest groups in the British Diatetic Association (2004)

Specialist groups

Special interest groups

Community Nutrition Group

Burns Interest Group

Diabetes Management and

D - Liver (Dietitians

Education Group

Working in Liver

Dietitians in HIV and AIDS


Freelance Dietitians Group

Dietitians in Neurological

Mental Health Group


Multicultural Nutrition Group

Dietitians in Sport and

Food Counts

Exercise Nutrition Group

Nutritional Advisory Group

Dietitians Working in

for Elderly People

Obesity Management

National Dietetic Managers



Gastroenterology Interest

Oncology Group


Pediatric Group

Northern Eating Disorders

Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition

Dietitians Interest Group


Nutritionists in Industry

Renal Nutrition Group

Pediatric Renal Interest

UK Heart and Thoracic



UK Dietitians Cystic

Fibrosis (CF) Interest


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