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What is a dietitian

What is a dietitian?

A dietitian is a qualified health professional who is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). He/she will need a minimum qualification of a four year undergraduate scientific dietetics degree or a two year postgraduate nutrition and dietetics degree (available only at UCT in South Africa) with training in all aspects and fields of nutrition therapy. There is a wide scope of practice for dietitians. Click here to view the regulations defining the scope of practice for the profession of dietetics.

In a nutshell, dietitians are qualified to understand and interpret the science of food and nutrition, access nutritional needs, advise on nutrition and diet for general good health or special needs e.g. medical conditions, athletes etc as well as implement and manage nutrition services and programs, undertake research and develop nutrition communications, programs and policies.

Clinical dietitian’s are able to address a wide variety of medical conditions.  Obesity, being a focus of most dietitians, remains of great concern especially in South Africa where statistics have shown an increase in the prevalence of overweight and obese adults and children.  Nutrition therapy is one of the cornerstones of treatment when it comes to the prevention and treatment of obesity  as well as the prevention of the development of chronic diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes, heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol) and cancer.

Dietitians are expertly trained to provide nutrition therapy for the following conditions: liver disease, kidney disease, HIV / AIDS, TB and throat, stomach and intestinal disorders such as IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, constipation, flatulence and diarrhoea. They also form a part of the valuable members of the multidisciplinary team in conditions such as food allergies and intolerances as well as eating disorders. Other nutritional services include: sports nutrition and the various stages during a person’s lifecycle i.e. pregnancy, infancy, childhood, adulthood right through to old age. Dietitians are also keen promoters and protectors of breastfeeding helping mothers intiate and maintain breastfeeding.


What skills do you need to become a dietitian?

Dietitians require the scientific knowledge behind food as well as the awareness of food and how it affects health. Besides the training you would receive from a reputable university, dietitians need to be caring with a positive attitude towards people. Good communication skills are required as dietitians are actively engaged in preventative health promotion at an individual and group level. Therefore, dietitians need to be able to work on their own and as part of a team. Above all, dietitians need to be responsible as they form part of the health profession.


Where do dietitians work?

As the scope of practice for a dietitian is so vast, they are able to work in a number of areas (also see career opportunities). Some examples include: hospitals, local clinics and health centres, care homes and military services.