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Dietetics, the Field

What is dietetics?

Dietetics is both the science and art of applying the principles of nutrition to the daily food plan. It is an important profession for health promotion and maintenance. In addition dietetics focuses on the sciences of nutrition and management in feeding individuals and groups throughout the life span. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) defines dietetics as “the integration and application of principles of nutritional science, biochemistry, food science, physiology, food systems management, behavioral science and social science in order to achieve or maintain the health of an individual or group of individuals.”  Dietetics includes the following:

  • assessing the nutritional needs of an individual or group of individuals
  • determining available resources and constraints in meeting those nutritional needs
  • establishing priorities, goals and objectives that meet those nutritional needs and are consistent with available resources and constraints
  • providing nutrition counseling
  • developing, implementing and managing nutritional care systems.


What is a Registered Dietitian?

The title “Registered dietitian” or “RD” can only be used by dietetics practitioners who are currently authorized to use the credential by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association. It is a legally protected title. The individuals with this credential have completed a specific academic program, supervised practice requirement, and successfully completed a registration examination of the Commission on Dietetic Registration in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD). In addition, RDs must maintain professional development requirements in order to maintain certification.



After passing the registration examination for dietitians, practice opportunities as a specialist in medical nutrition therapy, administrative dietetics, nutrition education, community nutrition, and research are available. There is increased recognition of the importance of nutrition in the fields of medicine, dental hygiene, health promotion, physical fitness, optimal well-being and nutrigenomics. This indicates that the dietitian’s scope of practice is steadily widening. Employment opportunities include private practice business, government agencies, food companies, fitness and corporate wellness programs, school or senior nutrition programs, colleges and universities, public and home health agencies as well as hospitals and outpatient clinics. Usual career designations include clinical dietitian, nutrition consultant, sports nutritionist, wellness counselor, research dietitian, corporate dietitian, foodservice manager, nutrition educator, management dietitian, nutrition therapist and community nutritionist. The following are the most common areas in which Registered Dietitians practice:


Clinical dietetics

The dietitian in clinical dietetics or medical nutrition therapy applies the science of nutrition to the care of people through health promotion and disease prevention and uses medical nutrition therapy in the treatment of disease. The effective dietitian must individualize care by taking into consideration the cultural, social, economic, aesthetic, and psychological factors that affect eating patterns. As a member of the patient-care team, the registered dietitian (RD) is responsible for assessing, implementing, and monitoring the nutritional care of patients. In addition, the RD may serve professionally as a nutrition practitioner in health care; a teacher in an educational institution; a research dietitian; or a nutrition consultant-educator in municipal, state, or federal departments of health.


Administrative Dietetics

The administrative registered dietitian (RD) manages food-service systems. In a health care institution, the RD is responsible for the effective functioning of food service including the delivery of superior quality meals for patients, patient families, administration, medical staff, personnel and all others who work within the institution. The administrative RD may also teach; manage food systems in educational, public, or commercial facilities; serve as a consultant to health care or educational institutions; or enter the field of research.


Community Nutrition

Community RDs practice in various settings, translating nutrition science to improve public health. Other areas of service include formulating regulations and policies for protecting and improving the health of individuals and groups in the community. In addition RDs plan, implement, evaluate and manage programs and resources. Dietitians working in the community exhibit high-quality leadership and other diverse skills


Nutrition Education

Although all registered dietitians can be considered educators there are lecturers and professors in college and university settings who are charged with preparing students to become part of and contributors to the field of dietetics/nutrition.  Their role is critical to the continuation of the profession for enhancement of societal health and well-being.