Registered dietitians (RDs) play a key role in disseminating information about nutrition and intervening in nutrition-related disorders in the Canadian context. Natural health products (NHPs) are increasingly associated with nutrition in patient and health professional discussions. For this study, NHPs were divided into three categories: nutritional supplements (NS); functional foods/nutraceuticals (FF/N); and herbal preparations (HP). The objective was to explore RDs’ perceptions about their professional roles and responsibilities with respect to three categories of natural health products (NHPs).
This research consisted of an on-line survey of registered dietitians (RDs) in Ontario.
Surveys were distributed electronically to all practicing RDs in Ontario by the College of Dietitians of Ontario. There were 558 survey respondents, a response rate of 20%.
The vast majority of RDs reported being consulted by clients about all product categories (98% for NS; 94% for FF/N; 91% for HP), with RDs receiving the most frequent questions about NS and the least frequent about HP. 74% of RDs believed that NS are included within the current scope of practice, compared to 59% for FF/N and 14% for HP. Even higher numbers believed that these products should be included: 97% for NS, 91% for FF/N and 47% for HP. RDs who report personally ingesting FF/N and HP were significantly more likely to report that these products should be in the dietetic scope of practice. In contrast, RDs who provide one-on-one counselling services or group-level counselling/workshops were significantly less likely to believe HP should be in the dietetic scope of practice.
Opinions of RDs indicated that NS and FF/N (and possibly HP) fall within, or should fall within, RDs’ scope of practice. Opportunity exists for RDs to undertake a professional role with respect to NHPs. Policy clarification regarding RD roles is needed.