January 2012 Issue

Is the World of Dietetics Getting a Facelift?
By Lori Zanteson
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 14 No. 1 P. 34

Nutrition professionals are all abuzz about the new name changes of the ADA and the DMA. Will this have an impact on the dietetics community, or will the playing field remain the same?

January holds the promise of a new year, which often brings exciting changes and new beginnings. This is certainly true of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Dietary Managers Association (DMA), which are ringing in the year with changes that will have a historic impact on the dietetics community. Effective this month, the ADA becomes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) and the DMA becomes the Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals (ANFP).

The DMA’s new name was revealed in June and announced publicly July 25, 2011, during its annual meeting in Dallas. Two months later, the American Dietetic Association unveiled its own new nomenclature to members at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in San Diego. The tandem name changes of the two largest food and nutrition organizations going into effect at the same time seem more strategic than coincidental and have given rise to speculation as to what surprises the new year will bring.

The DMA logged 18 months of research into its name change. According to Marla Isaacs, the DMA’s executive vice president, the journey started in 2009 with the approach of the organization’s 50th anniversary in 2010. The milestone was the opportunity to look forward to the next step, which turned into a full-blown strategic plan and brand identity study that included a task force, focus groups, and member surveys.

“Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals better reflects us and what we do,” Isaacs says. “Dietary is outdated. By taking dietary out of our name, we hope it will take out some of the confusion.”

Fear of Marketplace Confusion
The inclusion of nutrition in the DMA’s new name immediately sparked concern from the ADA over potential confusion. On June 24, 2011, ADA President Sylvia A. Escott-Stump, MA, RD, LDN, and CEO Patricia M. Babjak, MLIS, sent a letter on behalf of the ADA to the DMA board of directors requesting they reconsider their proposed name change due to “our concern over the potential for patient harm and marketplace confusion.” The letter stated that identifying DMA members as “nutrition and foodservice professionals is a misleading and overly broad characterization of your membership” due in part to the limited science and evidence-based nutrition education of certified dietary managers (CDMs). ADA members received a follow-up letter informing them of the request made of the DMA and recognizing the education and training of the RD as “the benchmark definition for ‘qualified nutrition professionals.’”

“It all started with the letter,” according to an RD source who asked to remain anonymous. “Something’s happening with dietary managers, and it’s bigger than their name change.”

There’s been speculation about a new DM credential that could somehow compete for students who are seeking placement for hard-to-come-by RD internships. Whether the ADA letter to the DMA was proactive or reactive, the source acknowledges that discussion of a new name for the ADA is nothing new, even if the ADA letter expedited the process.

According to the DMA, many of its members work in nutrition services and foodservice departments, so the new name is meant to reflect that training and skill level as well. “Our feeling is that CDMs work hand in hand with the RD to implement nutrition plans,” Isaacs says, “and this is a great opportunity for us to market both the difference in the roles and the way they work together. Nothing’s really changing. Our new brand clarifies the role of the CDM in facilities. Our members are trained in both nutrition and foodservice practices and are involved in the daily implementation of the nutrition care plans created by the dietitian.”

“I’m very biased about other specialties using that name,” says ADA Spokesperson Roberta Anding, MS, RD, LD, CDE, CSSD. “Food and nutrition professional is the definition of RD. A DM is not an RD. I think the [DMA’s] new name confuses the public. The more muddied the waters, the more confusion.”

Sign of the Times
For the ADA, the addition of the term “nutrition” in its new name has been well received. “The new name is long overdue,” Anding says. “Having the word nutrition in the name is huge. Dietetics defines the practice, and nutrition defines the science. How awesome is that? Dietetics spoke to that 1900s generation for a number of years. Now it’s a whole lot more. We’re enforcing what’s already a great brand.”

The intent, Anding explains, is to capture nutrition because that’s the term that resonates with consumers and wellness and is recognized by those in the medical community. She believes replacing “association” with “academy” gives the organization an elevated status.

In the September 24 letter sent to ADA members, for the benefit of those who didn’t attend FNCE, Escott-Stump shared the news that came one year after Past President Judith Rodriguez, PhD, RD, FADA, LDN, announced that the ADA would be seeking a name better suited to its mission and vision. The letter also noted that the majority of ADA members revealed through surveys that they supported a new name for the organization. This new name, the letter read, “immediately and fully complements our focus: the nutritional well-being of the American public. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics promotes the strong science background and expertise of our members, primarily registered dietitians. Nutrition science underpins wellness, prevention, and treatment.”

ADA’s New Name Gets Thumbs Up
While the ADA says it will continue with the same mission, the same “Eat Right” message, and the same quality nutrition advice as it has for nearly 100 years, the DMA’s name change is part of a complete rebranding it hopes will convey the scope of its members’ education and training. Yet the credential will remain the same.

“The certification is very solid,” Isaacs explains. “Our members have to maintain their credential, and we’ll continue to strengthen our education program from preprofessionals all the way through to those advanced in their careers.” According to Isaacs, the program is doing well. About 2,000 students sat for the exam last year. At a time when senior living and long-term care are booming, there will be a continued demand to have both dietitians and CDM professionals providing the best nutritional care possible.

“I feel like I have to do less explaining,” Julie Whittington, MS, RD, of Huntersville, North Carolina, says of the ADA’s name change. “The actual word ‘nutrition’ is helpful. That’s the professional organization of dietitians.”

In Whittington’s experience with the old name, most people didn’t connect dietetics with nutrition. She’s hoping the change will be a positive experience for people, especially those who’ve never met with a dietitian. “So many people don’t understand the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist,” she says. “This makes it more understandable. It’s nice to be able to have both nutrition and dietetics in the name.”

Much discussion ensued when the name change was first announced to the membership during FNCE in September. Sharon Palmer, RD, contributing editor for Today’s Dietitian and author of the upcoming book The Plant-Powered Diet, came away from the event feeling that most people like the new name. Overall, the use of “nutrition” was welcomed, though “academy” was critiqued as a bit of an outdated term and some felt “food” would have been nice to include. Palmer is glad to lose the old acronym, which was always confused with the American Diabetes Association and the American Dental Association.

Palmer also mentioned there are members who believe the organization would do better to make some policy changes, like being more selective with corporate sponsorships, to boost change rather than focus on a name. “The whole idea,” she says, “is to bring the organization up. Historically, dietetics was about such a different field. It’s come to mean so much more. They’re trying to change the face of our profession.”

While some members are wary of and even threatened by the potential confusion the new names could cause between the two organizations, Whittington doesn’t see that as an issue. The way she sees it, the Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals accurately describes what members do. In fact, she says, “You can guess what they do from their names, so I’m not opposed to that. I don’t see us losing our stronghold as the experts.”

Palmer agrees, noting that dietitians can “get so worried about people taking their job” although she’s never considered DMs as competition. The degree is different, and they do different types of work, she says. “You see them in hospitals and healthcare, but they’re assisting RDs.” In healthcare, she says, “You’re required to hold an RD to practice medical nutrition therapy. We’re still protected in that sense.” The people in healthcare understand the difference, but the community needs to learn. “I think they’re going to work really hard to ensure people understand. It’s the only organization like it. It has to be the organization you can go to for the latest information on nutrition.”

Continuing to move forward and grow in a positive way is clearly the intention of both the Academy and the ANFP. Change never comes without reaction, and this is no exception. We’ll all be watching closely for what hopefully continues to be a mutually beneficial history between these two professional organizations.

— Lori Zanteson is a southern California-based food and health writer whose work has appeared in various publications.


Timeline of Events

American Dietetic Association
• September 2010: Intent to change name announced

• June 24, 2011: Letter issued asking the Dietary Managers Association to reconsider its name change

• August 2011: Board of Directors votes to adopt new name

• September 24, 2011: New name announced to members

• January 2012: New name effective

Dietary Managers Association
• 2009: Began research on new name

• June 2011: Members vote on new name

• July 25, 2011: New name announced

• January 2012: New name effective