On the Table

Oversight, licensure essential for dietetics professionals

February 12, 2013 

If you like your nutrition advice accurate and in keeping with standards of practice in the field, then you’ve had a close call.

That’s because a bill passed by the state Senate last week that abolishes several state boards and commissions and wipes out the membership of others originally contained language that also would have eliminated the N.C. Board of Dietetics/Nutrition.

After an outcry from the dietetics community, bill sponsors dropped the language that would have abolished the board.

Why does it matter?

The board licenses and regulates the practice of dietetics and ensures that anyone providing nutrition counseling in our state has the educational background to know what they’re talking about. Trust me, if you need help managing your diabetes or, even worse, have multiple problems that require dietary coordination, you want the person counseling you to understand the physiology, biochemistry, and nutrition science behind the recommendations you need to follow.

Anything less may put your health at risk.

Licensure for many health professionals is common, and today 48 states require licensure for dietitians. It took decades of hard work to get there, though.

We’ve had licensure in North Carolina for 22 years. I remember advocating for it and being proud to be one of the first dietitians licensed in our state after the Dietetics Practice Act was passed in 1991.

Establishment of the N.C. Board of Dietetics and Nutrition meant that, with few exceptions, a license was required to provide nutrition care services in the state.

Services include assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and groups, establishing priorities and goals that meet nutritional needs and providing nutrition counseling.

Licensure doesn’t stop anyone from freely expressing their opinions, advocating for a particular diet or talking about what may or may not have worked for them individually. It does prevent unqualified people from providing nutrition care services and representing themselves as having the expertise to do so.

Human nutrition is complex, and whether you are sick or well, you deserve quality care. That starts with accurate advice, and licensure for dietitians is one way to help ensure you’ll get it.

In dietetics, as in many other spheres of public life, regulation and effective oversight are essential for protecting you and your family. It’s a proper role of government, and one that should be valued.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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