What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

The British Dietetic Association sum up the often asked question of what the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist is nicely:

  • Dietitians hold the only legally-recognised graduate qualification in nutrition and dietetics in the UK.”
  • “Dietetics is the interpretation and communication of the science of nutrition to enable people to make informed and practical choices about food and lifestyle, in both health and disease. A dietitian will have trained in both hospital and community settings as part of their course. Most dietitians are employed in the NHS, but dietitians also work in the food industry, education, research and on a freelance basis. It is necessary to have a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) recognised degree in nutrition and dietetics to work as a dietitian and to be registered with the HCPC if working as a dietitian. The title dietitian is protected by law, anyone using the title must be registered with the HCPC.”
  • “Nutrition is the study of nutrients in food, how nutrients are used by the body, and the relationship between diet, health and disease. Most of the major food manufacturers and retailers employ nutritionists and food scientists but opportunities also arise in journalism, research and education. There are a variety of careers within the field of food science and technology. Many nutritionists hold a nutrition degree and are on the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists, but this is not a mandatory register.

(sourced from http://www.bda.uk.com/careers/faq.html)

When I was considering a career within nutrition I saw the role of the dietitian as highly desirable, as it is a protected title which from the onset gives you much credibility within the field, and the scope of progression into different areas of nutrition are vast. From the clinical hospital setting, freelance work, industry, research and further education. Being a dietitian enables you to gain so much medical knowledge, across my clinical placements I have learnt a lot about different diseases, drugs, protocols, surgery techniques and medical terminology, which I think people sometimes don’t credit dietitians as having much/any knowledge of! However this knowledge can become essential when communicating with other members of the medical team, reading patient notes (especially when deciphering the dreaded doctor’s scrawl!) and most importantly across all of your patient care.

It is sad that ‘nutritionist’ cannot also be a protected title, as at my university (and I am sure the same goes for many others) the nutrition degree ran alongside the nutrition and dietetics degree, with a very small difference in modules, around 2/3 modules total difference! The main difference is that nutrition students do not have to complete clinical placements, but many do decide to complete a year placement in industry. Therefore, the knowledge on diet and health is much the same between the degree standards, however without a protected title, anyone is able to call themselves a nutritionist even without any proper training, which can be problematic for the unsuspecting public looking for nutritional advice.

A university peer pointed me to this petition recently, with the aim to get the nutritionist title a protected term. It is really worth signing if you also believe it should be standardised:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44766#

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