Dietitians do research

Last modified on 05/06/2019

Judy Lawrence is the BDA’s Research Officer

As policy officer for research at the BDA, I have had the pleasure of seeing both an increasing number of dietitians take their first steps as clinicians in the world of research, and more experienced dietetic researchers win large grants for studies with the potential to significantly improve people’s lives. Dietetics has benefited from both the HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme (ICA) and the Fellowship programme, as well as the move by charities towards funding allied health research. However, research has always been very much a part of “What Dietitians Do”.

This research is having real impact on practice and patients. Alistair Duncan’s work on Type 2 diabetes and its risk factors in HIV has alerted us to the high prevalence of type 2 diabetes in people living with HIV and the need to effectively target early prevention strategies. Whilst Clare Stradling is looking at reducing cardiovascular risk in people with HIV dislipidaemia. Clare and Alistair are supporting other dietitians to get involved in research through their role as research officers in the BDA specialist group HIV Care.

Other dietetic researchers supported by the NIHR include Laura Haigh working on personalised nutrition in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease , Julie Beckerson,  a specialist haemato-oncology dietitian looking at nutritional care during stem cell transplantation and Sorrel Burden who works with people who have survived colorectal cancer.

NIHR advocates for dietetic research, Mary Hickson, Gary Frost and Linda Wedlake have worked hard to encourage dietitians to apply for research training whilst between them undertaking research into the management of obesity, developing camera technology to improve the assessment of food intake, factors that influence the development of sarcopenia, improving hospital food provision and using fibre intake to prevent radiation toxicity during radiotherapy

Diet and nutrition affect us all so it is not surprising that dietetic research covers many areas and diseases across the lifespan. Sarah Bath a dietitian at Surrey University looks at iodine and particularly its role as an essential nutrient during pregnancy and therefore its impact on early childhood. Kath Hart is researching reproductive health in women who have had bariatric surgery. Ann Ashworth has recently completed her PhD at Plymouth University; her work has contributed to an increasing body of evidence that suggests that dietary nitrate obtained from vegetables can be beneficial for cardiovascular health. Fellow Plymouth researcher Louise Wilkinson is looking at meeting the nutritional needs of people living in their own homes with dementia.

Dietetics is respected for the depth of research taught in the preregistration curriculum.  As post registration research has become more common the BDA research symposium has evolved from being a show case for preregistration research to a forum for all dietitians to share their research and publish their abstracts in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (JHND). This year we welcome more of the BDA specialist groups to the symposium and look forward to hearing about an even wider range of research from dietitians working as clinicians and in academia.

Dietetic research can be found in a wide range of Journals and is often, like the symposium abstracts, open to anyone to access without a subscription.  A publication by dietitians Heidi Staudacher and Kevin Whelan about the FODMAP diet has been downloaded 1180 times, an indication of the impact that dietetic research can have on people’s lives. Kevin and fellow dietitian Meghan Rossi have recently secured £1.42 million to investigate links between Crohn’s disease and food additives.

The future for dietitians in research and the gains in understanding and improved care for their patients looks very bright indeed.

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