Dietitians are a critical part of modern medicine. In the hospital, dieticians not only educate patients on dietary treatment of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease; they also evaluate the nutritional status of critically ill patients and develop nutrition plans that may involve tube feeding or intravenous feeding. This is complicated, and takes into account a patient’s nutritional needs, medical conditions, etc. They are highly trained professionals.
If you want to see a dietitian lose it, call them a “nutritionist”. “Dietitian” is a specific profession governed by specific educational and licensing requirements. A dietitian can call themselves a nutritionist, but so can just about anyone else. As with other health care professions, dietitians have good reason to protect their profession. Protecting their profession protects their patients. Dietary fads are among the most prolific of medical scams and good information can be hard to find. Registered dietitians explicitly strive to utilize evidence to guide their practice. And critically, they have a published Code of Ethics.*
As is not uncommon, there are those who, in the name of “health freedom” (and profit), object to the dietitian “monopoly” on nutritional therapy. One way they have done this is to claim the title “nutritionist” and set up a certification system. Once this structure is in place, it’s easier to get states to approve them as licensed professionals. In this second area—state licensing—they are enlisting allies that comprise many of “the usual suspects”.
One group that is attempting to create an alternative path to nutritional therapy is the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board. Upon first learning of “clinical nutritionists” my first question was why would anyone want a second, parallel route to dietary science? What’s wrong with the system we already have in place?
First let’s review the basic qualifications for registered dietitians (RDs):
- Earned a bachelor’s degree with course work approved by ADA’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. Coursework typically includes food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management, business, economics, computer science, sociology, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology and chemistry.
- Completed an accredited, supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency or foodservice corporation.
- Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Completes continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.
The requirements for the clinical nutrition board look superficially similar. But looking a little deeper reveals some disturbing trends. For example, rather than the real-world training program required for an RD, they require online coursework. And they explicitly court naturopaths, a group of doctor-wannabes who claim to be “integrative” but who actually practice magic rather than medicine, including in their practices such nonsense as homeopathy and reiki. And as we’ve seen time and time again, once you open the door on one disproved or implausible practice, anything can (and will) walk through.
It would appear that the CNCB is not only encouraging fake doctors to apply, but also explicitly requiring “training” in fake medicine. In the description of their examinations, they require:
Knowledge of alternative evaluation techniques (i.e., homeopathic interrogation, acupuncture meridian interrogation, kinesiology, chelation therapy, Herbology, reflexology, allergic food provocation testing electromagnetic frequency challenge) as related to nutritional assessment
Any certification process that requires a knowledge of “electromagnetic frequency challenge” without mentioning it as a wallet-emptying magic trick is not worthy of official recognition.
But official recognition is exactly what they want.
The state of Michigan is currently working on regulations for the licensing of dietitians and nutritionists. A Michigan naturopath is rather concerned about this process and is helping campaign on behalf of the “Michigan Nutrition Association”.
Our mission is to serve the interests of the public and Michigan professionals who incorporate human nutrition in their practice and patient care. We envision a vibrant community of CNS, CCN, CNC, CN, DACBN, Pharmacists, Medical Doctors, Nurses, Chiropractors, Naturopathic Doctors and many other professionals working in the interest of public health.
What this essentially means is that they are lobbying to allow pseudo-professionals such as chiropractors and naturopaths to be “licensed dietitians and nutritionists”. In addition to giving them a patina of legitimacy (but no more than a patina), it might allow them to order laboratory tests (and there is no shortage of profit to be found in these).
This tactic of seeking legal rather than professional legitimacy is a growing and disturbing trend. Hopefully, the legal process will be informed more by evidence than by the lobbying of pseudo-professionals, but I’m not terribly optimistic.
*This code is much more sophisticated and transparent than that offered by the CNCB, and includes this statement:
6. The dietetics practitioner doesnot engage in false or misleadingpractices or communications.a. The dietetics practitioner doesnot engage in false or deceptiveadvertising of his or herservices.b. The dietetics practitioner promotesor endorses specific goodsor products only in a mannerthat is not false and misleading.c. The dietetics practitioner providesaccurate and truthful informationin communicatingwith the public.