Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Building Our Future-Increasing Diversity in the Dietetics Profession: A Summary of the ADA Diversity Mentoring Project

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Building Our Future-Increasing Diversity in the Dietetics Profession: A Summary of the ADA Diversity Mentoring Project

Article excerpt


AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION (ADA) members, the largest group of food and nutrition professionals in the world, have the capability of expanding access to nutrition services for diverse populations in a variety of traditional and nontraditional therapeutic and health prevention settings. Toward that end, ADA's 2000-2003 Strategic Plan includes goals, objectives, and tactics focused on underrepresented groups. The ADA has committed to increasing diversity in educational preparation from 20% in 1998 to 25% by 2004. To meet this goal, the ADA recognized the urgent need to try new methods for addressing diversity issues and began the Diversity Mentoring Project in February 2001 with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions, Division of Interdisciplinary Community-Based Programs, Allied Health Branch. The purpose of the project was to develop a model for mentoring minorities into nutrition science and dietetics programs. Other health professions would be able to apply this model, ultimately improving the quality of health care and accessibility of health services within culturally diverse populations.

Challenges for the Dietetics Profession

Among the U.S. population, for those reporting one race: 75.1% were white, 12.3% were Black or African American, 0.9% were Native American or Alaskan Native, 3.6% were Asian, 0.1% were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and, 5.5% were some other race; 2.4% reported two or more races. Among the U.S. population, all races, 12.5% were Hispanic or Latino and 87.5% were not Hispanic or Latino.1

Underrepresentation of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans exists in dietetics and other health professions. The ADA 1999 membership survey results indicated that only 2.4% of registered dietitians (RD) are African American; 2.0% are Hispanic; 5.4% are Asian or Pacific Islanders; and 0.2 % are Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Hawaiian Natives. Of RDs, 97.4% are women.2 Representation of underrepresented groups among ADA members compared with the U.S. population is shown in Table 1.

In all health professions, adequate representation of minority people is necessary for access to and the quality of services for the public. Perceived ethnic and social differences with health care providers often discourage consumers from seeking care or sharing intimate information required for appropriate treatment. Social and ethnic differences between providers and clients can inhibit the development of effective treatment plans. An Institute of Medicine study provided further evidence supporting the need for increased diversity in the health professions and enhanced cross-cultural education of health professionals.3

These issues are particularly important for the dietetics profession. Diet is a major factor in prevention and control of chronic diseases, especially obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Strong evidence supports the need to address these racial and ethnic differences in disease prevalence and health outcomes. Prevention and standard treatment approaches must be tailored to the needs of various patient groups, and food services in many instances must be geared to the diverse groups.


According to the report issued by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health on the evaluation and treatment of obesity in adults, "the need for obesity prevention and treatment is particularly pressing in racial/ethnic minority populations because of the high proportion of overweight and obese persons in many such populations."4 Obesity is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

* The prevalence of obesity is much higher in minority women. Among women, 33% of non-Hispanic whites, 52%10 of non-Hispanic blacks, and 50% of Mexican Americans are overweight. …

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