As Americans we love to celebrate. At any given point in the year we are amidst a special month, week or day set aside for awareness, commemoration or remembrance for a variety of causes, events and people. Usually I shake my head in amusement at every passing holiday but my attitude quickly changes at the start of national nutrition month. One day in March, registered dietitians get a chance at recognition and a time to shine. This year, it’s Wednesday March 13th.
Nutrition has long been regarded as an important part of human’s well-being. Over 6,000 years ago the Egyptian people believed that food was crucial to overall health. The ancient Indian and Chinese cultures used food as a form of medicine. One of the founding fathers of medicine, Hippocrates, stated, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. Leonardo Da Vinci compared metabolism in the human body to a candle burning. The now infamous first nutrition experiment done by the British physician, Dr. James Lind in 1747 found that limes prevented the deadly disease scurvy in sailors when included as part of their daily diet. Nutrition, however mysterious, mattered.
The science of nutrition and connection to health has been present much longer than the actual profession of dietetics. The 20th century was a time of great discovery in nutrition. The majority of vitamins and minerals integral to life were chemically isolated and named in the first several decades of the 1900s. As the science matured, the profession of dietetics broadened its reach. Dietitians were formally recognized as a profession in 1967 by the International Labour Office. And, yes, they declared the spelling “dietitian” not the nails-down-the chalkboard irritating “dietician”.
Even before the formal recognition of dietitians, the field was evolving just as fast as the nutritional breakthroughs in the early 20th century. In 1919, the first dietitian, Hallie Corsette, was hired by the US Public Health Service Divisions of Hospitals and assumed the title, “Superintendent of Dietitians”. Mrs. Corsette grew the division to include 85 dietitians whose focus was the food service operations of the Public Health Service hospitals. World War II added more duties to the dietitian’s repertoire, including doomsday preppers and consultants. For example, dietitians partnered with the Civil Defense Mobilization Program to protect the food supply and nourish the population if the United States were bombed. Dietitians were hired by state and local health departments to create nutrition clinics. By 1940 there was enough nutrition research available to establish the RDAs and dietitians subsequently began providing nutrition education to their clients.
As the demand for nutrition experts grew, the need for standardized education and training of dietitians became paramount. In 1974, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association) was recognized by the US Department of Education as the accrediting agency for dietetic internships and tasked with coordinating undergraduate programs. The responsibility of accreditation was shifted to the Commission for Accreditation in Dietetic Education (CADE) in 1994.
Registered Dietitians and the profession of dietetics is still in its infancy. Nutritional science is announcing new intricacies about the healing properties of food on a daily basis. Treating disease with a healthy diet comes with the intrinsic benefit of prevention. Medical nutrition therapy is a powerful tool that lacks the laundry list of side effects seen in many pharmaceuticals treatments. As registered dietitians we have every right to celebrate our leading role in combating chronic disease and translating the science into meaningful advice and guidance. Stand up and claim your day!Written By: Lauren M. Pillar RD, LDN Public Health Nutritionist Visit Lauren’s blog at http://www.ImperfectNutritionist.com