Definition and History of Dietetics

Dietetics is defined as 'the application of the science of nutrition to the human being in health and disease.' However, the term 'dietitian,' used to describe a practitioner of dietetics, was in use long before the science of nutrition had become an accepted discipline. The first use of the title of dietitian was recorded in 1899 in the United States when the dietitian was described as 'a person working in a hospital who provided nutritious meals to patients.' The earliest dietitians were therefore mainly concerned with provision of food and usually trained as home economists. The role of the dietitian has changed markedly in the past 50 years, and the dietitian is now accepted as the expert in the planning and evaluation of nutritional care for patients requiring therapeutic dietary regimens as well as for the population in general.

The profession of dietetics is a relatively young one, first formalized in the United States in 1917 with the foundation of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). In the United Kingdom, the first dietitians were nurses and the first dietetic department opened in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1924. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) was established in 1936. The profession developed rapidly in other countries, and in 2004 there were 23 dietetic associations registered with the European Federation of the Association of Dietitians and 36 national dietetic associations registered with the International Committee of Dietetic Associations.

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