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The Future Of The Registered Dietitian
Kimberly Evans, RD
Marlboro College
Organizational Management and Leadership
October 2, 2012

Abstract: Registered dietitians, RD’s, are well seated to be the drivers of health care reform. The emerging science of nutritional genomics puts nutrition in the forefront of preventative health care with the call for personalized nutrition plans. As a profession, RD’s, are not be accustom to the spot light and the organizations representing the profession have not been organized in their leadership. The problem exists of how to use these scientific advancements to better position the profession in the health care industry. This has created a need for a new set of skills and a clearer vision for the profession. It also calls for RD’s to get creative in networking and marketing. It is an opportunity to work together to advance the profession as a whole.

Keywords: registered dietitian, health care reform, prevention, nutritional genomics, personalized nutrition

The Future of Personalized Nutrition

The discovery of the human genome has invited an exciting and needed opportunity for change in health care. For too long we have accepted that chronic disease is just part of the human condition. We have viewed our genetic make up as a script of life with a predetermined path. Thanks to the discovery of the human genome we now know differently. We are beginning to understand that our ancient book of life is not on a set course. Rather, epigenetic tags are responsive to environmental inputs that determine genetic expression and disease pathology.

Interestingly, this discovery has put the role of nutrition in chronic disease in the spotlight in an entirely new way. Whereas medical conversation has traditionally focused on nutrition as the root cause of disease, we are now focusing on the role of nutrients in the prevention of disease. Nutritional genomic is the new vision of preventative healthcare. However, while the role of nutrition and the prevention of chronic disease is undeniable, registered dietitians, RD’s, have struggled to establish themselves as the recognized nutrition experts to deliver this care. While there are many reasons why this is, the intent of this paper is to focus on the opportunity that the discovery of the human genome has brought to the organization of registered dietitians and to examine how these opportunities will be met.

According to the Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics (CENG) at the University of California, Davis nutritional genomics is the “study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients”. This science studying the relationship between human genome, nutrition and health has the potential to change the way nutrition care is practiced. According to a review published in the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics “Nutritional genomics has tremendous potential to change the future of dietary guidelines and personal recommendations. Nutrigenetics will provide the basis for personalized dietary recommendations based on the individual's genetic make up”. (Corella and Ordovas, 2004)

In order for dietitians to be effective in the delivery of this practice, it is essential to have an in depth understanding of the direction the science is moving. Yet many undergraduate dietetics programs in the country do not include genetics, or nutritional genomics, as part of the curricula. A study published in the Journal of the Dietetic Association in 2006 concluded that while there are many benefits in applying nutritional genomics most RD’s do not feel confident in their knowledge base to apply this science to their practices. With the push toward giving clients personalized nutrition advice, based on their genes, this demonstrates the need to work to integrate this education into undergraduate curriculum and to offer continuing education to RD’s who...
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