Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

What about Health Educators? Nutrition Education for Allied Health Professionals: A Review of the Literature

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

What about Health Educators? Nutrition Education for Allied Health Professionals: A Review of the Literature

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Health educators are critical members of the health care team who may be called upon to provide nutrition education. However, are health educators prepared for this task? What have scholars concluded regarding this pertinent topic? Purpose: This study has three purposes: (I) to determine the definition of and criteria for nutrition education among allied health professionals, (2) to identify commonalities across health professions for nutrition education definitions and training requirements, and (3) to determine if there are criteria for nutrition education and training for health educators. Methods: A comprehensive review of the literature. Results: Twenty-three articles addressed how researchers conceptualize nutrition and their rationale for nutrition's inclusion into the respective allied health discipline's curriculum. None of the studies examined nutrition education or the advocacy of nutrition for pre-professional or professional health educators. Discussion: Scholarly literature is currently silent on the topics of nutrition education provided by health educators, the ability of health educators to deliver nutrition education, and the advocacy of nutrition by the health education profession. Translation to Health Education Practice: This study represents the first step towards addressing the limitations associated with the role of nutrition educator and identifying possible changes needed for the health education profession.

BACKGROUND

Who delivers nutrition education? Who is academically prepared for the task? The lack of role delineation among allied health professionals renders the answer unclear. Although the Registered Dietitian (RD)--an integral part of the interdisciplinary health care team--is considered the nutrition expert, (1) other team members including nutritionists, nurses and health educators may also be charged with the task of imparting nutrition education. Yet, are these other professionals receiving adequate academic preparation to deal with the ever evolving fields of food and nutritional sciences?

With the growing demand for trained professionals to effectively address obesity and other pertinent health issues, it is essential that the various roles of allied health professionals serving as nutrition education specialists be clarified. The query should begin with an examination of the training and skill requirements for those who actually deliver nutrition education as part of their professional responsibilities. According to Ferrer-Mansoori, (2) these individuals may "lack the necessary training in educational theories and methods or methodologies that can bring about desired lasting change." It is also imperative that a comparison of the strengths and limitations specific to the delivery of nutrition education by non-RD health professionals be done.

To fully understand the value of appropriate qualifications for nutrition education delivery, it is important to define the terms nutrition and nutrition education. Harper (3) indicates that in defining nutrition there is some obscurity, as the label refers both to a science and a practice. Both Johnson (4) and Harper (3) agree that nutrition should not be considered a basic science, but in fact one of action as it can and should be converted into practical, user-friendly applications for the general public. The science of nutrition deals primarily with the study of food and its relation to and impact on health) Consequently, the practice of nutrition deals with the application of the information obtained though the science of nutrition for human well-being. (3) It is this definition of nutrition as practice that is referenced throughout this review.

Nutrition education may be defined as education about nutrition. As a construct, nutrition education reinforces and reifies the concepts of diet, physical activity, and overall health practices. Improving dietary behavior, therefore, is the primary goal of nutrition education. …

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