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What is a dietitian?

Dietitians are qualified and regulated health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public-health level.

They use the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.

Dietitians work in the NHS and in private clinics. They work with healthy and sick people in a variety of settings. They can work in the food industry, workplace, catering, education, sport and the media. Other care pathways they work in include mental health, learning disabilities, community, acute settings and public health. 

They often work as integral members of multi-disciplinary teams to treat complex clinical conditions such as diabetes, food allergy and intolerance, IBS syndrome, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, malnutrition, kidney failure and bowel disorders. They advise and influence food and health policy across the spectrum from government, to local communities and individuals.

Reasons to see a dietitian

Finding and accessing the services of a dietitian can be achieved in several ways, but why choose one in the first place? You may be referred by a GP or request a referral to address a specific medical/health need or condition.

Alternatively, you may choose to seek out the services of a freelancer. Here are just a few examples of where they, working on a one-to-one basis or part of a wider health team, can help improve your health and lifestyle:

  • you suffer with digestive problems
  • you have been diagnosed with a medical condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, coeliac, HIV etc
  • you have oral, enteral or parenteral nutrition requirements  
  • your child, or looked after child, has specialised nutritional requirements
  • you are wanting or needing to lose weight in a safe and sensible way
  • you need to put weight on following a spell of ill-health or as the result of a medical condition
  • you are considering surgery to lose weight
  • you want to improve your athletic performance or general fitness levels
  • you want advice about breastfeeding and weaning
  • you think you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food
  • you would like advice about eating disorders
  • you are a carer and want credible and practical advice to ensure the person/s you are caring for is/are getting the appropriate nutrition in their diet/s.

While dietitians work with individuals, as the above examples explain, in the NHS and on a freelance basis, they also work across the board wherever food and nutrition is present. 

Is the title ‘dietitian’ protected by law?

YES.  Only those registered with the statutory regulator, the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) can use the title.

What qualifications do they have?

The minimum requirement is a BSc Hons in Dietetics, or a related science degree with a postgraduate diploma or higher degree in Dietetics.

Dietetic courses are structured to include biochemistry, physiology, applied sciences and research methods which underpin nutrition and dietetics. These are complemented by social and behavioural sciences and the theories of communication to support the development of skills required for professional dietetic practice.

All courses require a period of supervised practice including NHS settings, where an individual must demonstrate clinical and professional competence before being eligible to apply for registration.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is the professional body and Trade Union and is also responsible for designing the curriculum for the profession. Courses must be approved by the HCPC and demonstrate that graduates meet the Standards of Proficiency for Dietetics.

Who are dietitians regulated and quality assured by?

The HCPC’s role is to protect the public. It is an independent, UK-wide health regulator. The HCPC keeps a current register of health professionals who meet its standards and takes action if registered health professionals fall below those standards. Registered professionals must keep up-to-date through compulsory Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

If an individual is not happy with treatment they are given, or if they are worried about the behaviour or health of a dietitian, they can approach the HCPC who will investigate and take action.

 


Watch: What's the most common misconception about being a dietitian?


What type of treatments do dietitians offer?

They interpret the science of nutrition to improve health and treat diseases and conditions by educating and giving practical, personalised advice to clients, patients, carers and colleagues. They advise and help to maintain nutritional status when individuals want to trial dietary interventions such as exclusion diets, nutritional supplementation or dietary interventions in areas such as autism for which evidence is still emerging. They use recognised methodologies to critically appraise the evidence base which includes all forms of evidence and research to inform their advice.

They cannot offer advice where there would be personal financial benefit.

Read more:

Dietitian, Nutritionist, Nutritional Therapist or Diet Expert? A comprehensive guide to roles and functions.

Our Food Fact Sheets to help you learn the best ways to eat and drink to keep your body fit and healthy.