Friday, 1 June 2018

Prevention by any other name would smell as sweet

Guest post by Tom Embury, Public Affairs Officer, British Dietetic Association

Next week, June 4th - 8th is Dietitians Week 2018, where the British Dietetic Association and its members and allies celebrate the work of dietitians. This year’s theme is “Dietitians Do Prevention”, which intends to highlight the important role that dietitians have to play in prevention and public health. We know nutrition and hydration underpin so much of our health and getting it right can reduce the impact of illness, aid recovery, or prevent some diseases and conditions altogether.

NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, in the most recent frameworks from NHS Scotland and the Northern Irish Health and Social Care Service and is embodied in the principles of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act.

It has been made clear by everyone from Marmot to the NHS Confederation that we need to strengthen prevention and that it should be everybody’s business. Despite this, many dietitians (and indeed healthcare staff in general) still don’t think of themselves as doing prevention or public health, especially as so many work in hospital settings, delivering acute care. Our recent 2018 member survey has shown that 40% of our members don’t feel that they do prevention or public health activity. This may be because they don’t have the time or resources, despite wishing to do so, but in some cases, it is because they don’t see public health as part of their remit.

Of course, we believe all our members “do prevention” and public health, but not everyone will call it by that name. Indeed, the term public health often seems to have quite a narrow definition, associated with the work of local government public health teams. This is important work, but by no means is that everything public health entails.

This is why, in preparation for Dietitians Week this year, we asked all our specialist groups for their view on how they do prevention. Our specialist groups cover pretty much all of the areas of dietetics - from paediatrics to older people, public health to critical care. What we found is that there are dozens of words and terms used to describe activity that is essentially a form of prevention.

Some were variations, like primary, secondary or tertiary prevention depending on where you work and what types of illnesses your patients have. Others, such as Making Every Contact Count or Healthy Conversations, relate to specific campaigns or initiatives. In areas like Mental Health or Paediatrics, a whole different language can exist. Even rehabilitation or recovery after acute illness is a form of prevention - preventing future episodes, further hospital visits or complications. One great example comes from Fuse itself – the research carried out into the impact of energy drink intake amongst young people has had an impact on national level policy making.

This is why we are trying to celebrate prevention in all its forms and with all its various names. Dietitians are and should to a greater extent be a core part of the public health workforce.

Our incoming Chairman, Caroline Bovey, highlighted this issue with terminology and understanding at our recent Annual General Meeting. She asked the crowd of over 100 dietitians to raise their hands if they were involved in public health. Some hands went up but they were definitely in the minority. She then asked who had a twitter account where they talked about diet and nutrition – far more hands shot up. “You are all”, she said, “doing public health dietetics”.

So, whether you’re having a healthy conversation or making every contact count, supporting rehabilitation or reducing hospital admissions, celebrate the way that you do prevention. We can’t let the terminology get in the way of sharing best practice or spreading good ideas. We’d love you to tell us about it as part of Dietitians Week! Get in touch via

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