Population Risk Factors and Trends in Health Care and Public Policy

Betsy Haughton, Jamie Stang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Many factors affect the current and future practice of dietetics in the United States. This article provides an overview of the most important population risk factors and trends in health care and public policy that are anticipated to affect the current dietetics workforce and future of dietetics training and practice. It concludes with an overview of the state of the current workforce, highlighting the opportunities and challenges it will face in the future. Demographic shifts in the age and racial/ethnic composition of the US population will be a major determinant of future the dietetics profession because a growing population of older adults with chronic health conditions will require additional medical nutrition therapy services. Dietetics practitioners will work with an increasingly diverse population, which will require the ability to adapt existing programs and services to culturally diverse individuals and communities. Economic factors will affect not only the type, quantity, and quality of food available in homes, but also how health care is delivered, influencing future roles of registered dietitians (RDs) and dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs). As health care services consume a larger percentage of federal and corporate expenditures, health care agencies will continue to look for ways to reduce costs. Health promotion and disease prevention efforts will likely play a larger role in health care services, thus creating many opportunities for RDs and DTRs in preventive care and wellness. Increasingly, dietetics services will be provided in more diverse settings, such as worksites, community health centers, and home-care agencies. To address population-based health care and nutrition priorities effectively, dietetics practice will need to focus on appropriate evidence-based intervention approaches and targets. The workforce needs to be skilled in the delivery of culturally competent interventions across the lifespan, for all population groups, and across all levels of the social-ecological model for primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention. Because there is an assumption that the dietetics profession will experience rates of attrition of 2% to 5% based on historical workforce data, an important consideration is that the current dietetics workforce is limited in terms of diversity. An increasingly diverse population will demand a more diverse dietetic workforce, which will only be achieved through a more focused effort to recruit, train, and retain practitioners from a variety of racial, ethnic, social, and cultural backgrounds. In addition, the geographic distribution of RDs and DTRs must be addressed through strategic planning efforts related to dietetics training to provide access to and delivery of services to meet population needs. Furthermore, the health care workforce is projected to bifurcate as a result of growth in demand for the "frontline workforce" that works in direct patient contact. This bifurcation will require the dietetics profession to consider new practice roles and the level of education and training required for these roles in relation to how much the health care delivery system is willing and able to pay for services. There are many challenges and opportunities for the dietetics workforce to address the changing population risk factors and trends in health care and public policy by working toward intervention targets across the social-ecological model to promote health, prevent disease, and eliminate health disparities. Addressing nutrition-related health needs, including controlling costs and improving health outcomes, and the demands of a changing population will require careful research and deliberation about new practice roles, integration in health care teams, workforce supply and demand, and best practices to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S35-S46
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number3 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding/Support: Publication of this article was supported by the Commission on Dietetic Registration as part of the Dietetics Workforce Demand Study.


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