In honor of National Nutrition Month, I wanted to shed some light on what it actually means and takes to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and what the difference is between a dietitian and a “nutritionist”.
What is a dietitian?
A registered dietitian is required to complete all academic coursework from an accredited university (by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) and have a Bachelor’s degree. A Master’s degree will be required anyone who graduates in 2024 although many people, like myself, are already working on our Master’s degree to really be experts in our field :). To become a registered dietitian, you must also complete at least 1200 supervised practice hours (what I’m currently doing) coming from 3 rotations; clinical, community, and management. Last, but not least, after you have completed all of the above requirements, you must pass a rigorous national boards exam AND maintain continuing education hours yearly to keep practicing as an RDN.
So, what do dietitians do?
Dietitians provide clinical nutrition care, medical nutrition therapy, manage food and nutrition operations, provide nutrition counseling and education, and much MUCH more – no, dietitians aren’t just the “food police”.
Dietitians have THE highest level of nutrition education and counseling training. Yes, even more than your doctor! Side note – my physician admitted to me that his ONE nutrition class during med school was the absolute hardest class he had ever taken AND he had to get a tutor! Honestly, most doctors get less than 20 hours of nutrition education over the course of their entire education.
What is a nutritionist?
A “nutritionist” on the other hand does not have and requirements. Any stranger you pass, anyone at the gym, or at the grocery store, ANYONE can claim themselves as a “nutritionist” no matter how little or how much experience or education they have in nutrition. There are no laws that require a “nutritionist” to have a license, any education, or any training. Now, that’s not saying that someone can’t take an online test and call themselves a “certified nutritionist” but, that still is not the same level of expertise that dietitians are trained at. Although some “nutritionists” may be knowledgeable in nutrition, it is important when seeking nutrition advice to look for someone who is qualified.
National Nutrition Month
Let’s start with a little history:
The first National Nutrition Week was launched in 1973 with the theme “Invest in Yourself – Buy Nutrition.” National Nutrition week was enthusiastically embraced by the American Dietetic Association (ADA), now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). This week gave members an opportunity to promote the profession as well as to serve as a way to deliver nutrition education messages to the public.
In 1980 National Nutrition Week had grown into National Nutrition Month due to the dramatic growth in the number of members involved, activities, and the number of consumers reached. In 1986, National Nutrition Month received the C. Flag Award from the President’s Citation Program for Private Sector Initiatives. In the 1990’s ADA members were challenged with how to incorporate their knowledge into a healthful lifestyle and how to move consumers to action.
In 1993 ADA members joined forces with McDonalds on a project called Food FUNdamentals. They featured toy food characters and nutrition activity pamphlets developed by the ADA. Millions of children learned about the Food Guide Pyramid, later turned into MyPlate, through the materials distributed with this program.
In 1995 the ADA joined forces with key members of the food industry, other healthy organizations, and US government agencies to create the Dietary Guidelines Alliance. The objective of this unusual partnership was to “speak with one voice.” The Alliance developed the “It’s All About You” campaign to translate the Dietary Guidelines recommendations into five simple messages:
- Be realistic
- Be adventurous
- Be flexible
- Be Sensible
- Be active
These core messages became the basis for a wide range of consumer education projects and can still be seen today in National Nutrition Month and other consumer nutrition communications.
By the late 1990’s, National Nutrition Month had moved onto the internet (so crazy – it seems like just yesterday!) ADA members were sending out daily e-mails that contained nutrition tips. During this time the promotional materials went from print to CD-ROM (WOW!!) and nutrition month continued to grow.
Over the past 45 years, National Nutrition Month has remained true to its original purpose: “To increase the public’s awareness of the importance of good nutrition and position ADA members as the authorities in nutrition.”
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sets the theme every year and this year the theme was: “Going Further with Food” which covers many different avenues.
I created this handout for my internship facility to use to promote National Nutrition Month. The topics I have covered include:
- Dining out vs. Cooking at home
- How to reuse food
- Planning menus
- Meal prepping
- Food Safety
During our presentations we also discussed how you can grow your own vegetables and herbs and how to compost.
Thanks for stopping by!
Questions or comments?
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time…