I am writing in regard to the op-ed in the February 1 Wall Street Journal headlined “Do you need a college degree to give diet advice?” In answering the question posed in the headline, the authors ignore important distinctions between giving general dietary advice and providing potentially lifesaving services that require significant levels of education and training.
There is an enormous difference between offering people routine suggestions for eating better and providing safe, effective counseling and treatment – for example, to clients and hospital patients who have life-threatening conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney disorders.
Nutrition is a science, and registered dietitian nutritionists must earn the qualifications to provide services to treat and manage these serious conditions, and much more. The medical nutrition therapy we provide is as complicated as the diseases and conditions we treat, in patients who often are very sick. Individuals without formal training and credentials could not possibly know how to properly treat such patients.
RDNs alone have the knowledge, the skills, the background, the established standards of practice and the ongoing continuing education requirements to be people’s most reliable source of nutrition-related advice and services. The practice of dietetics is regulated and operates under a strict code of ethics; while “coaches” and similarly titled practitioners can operate without any oversight whatsoever.
RDNs’ unparalleled skills are put to work every day in hospitals, schools, public health clinics, nursing homes, fitness centers, food management, food industry, universities, research and private practice. RDNs are advocates for advancing the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world.
I would not want to undergo an appendectomy performed by someone who does not have a medical license, nor would I want a non-attorney arguing my case in a courtroom. It is a matter of common sense and public safety to require certain levels of training and experience to work in these areas. The same goes for nutrition services. That is why RDNs are credentialed at the national level by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and, in most states, like physicians and attorneys, are licensed by appropriate agencies that are established to protect the public.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, holds that academic, experience and exam standards at the registered dietitian nutritionist level are the minimum qualifications necessary to be a safe, effective provider of nutrition services such as medical nutrition therapy.
While the Academy is not involved in the Florida case mentioned in the article, we are monitoring it as it proceeds through the state system. The Academy works with its members, as well as legislators and other stakeholders, in every state to protect consumers and ensure high standards for nutrition and dietetics practice.
Manifesting the Academy’s long support of those who serve in the military since our founding during World War I, we continue to work with states to enable service members and their spouses who hold the RDN credential to obtain state dietetics licenses with greater ease and flexibility.
Untold millions of people are in need of safe, science-based nutrition and dietary advice. Seeking the services of a registered dietitian nutritionist is the best way to ensure you are getting the best possible help in eating right and staying healthy.
Donna S. Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics