Dietetics explained

Dietitians are often thought of as the people who help us eat better. But while that is part of their job, the world of dietetics encompasses so much more.

Ranging from assessing a child’s individual nutritional needs, to developing personalised eating plans, through to running education sessions and implementing medical nutrition therapy, the role of a dietitian is varied and is a vital part of treatment for many patients.

“Nutrition is one of the main foundations of our health and plays important role in treating a wide range of medical conditions,” Dietitian, Clare Klimes said.

“Our job as dietitians is to assess the nutritional needs and use medical nutrition therapy to help children manage their health through food choices and optimise their nutritional status and growth.”

Across Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, thousands of patients rely on the Nutrition and Dietetics teams every year to help manage conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal disease, food allergies, eating disorders and obesity.

“The children we see usually have extra challenges, which makes it harder for them to grow properly. Their condition might mean they are too sick to eat or drink, that their body isn’t functioning as it should, that they can’t absorb nutrients from food or that their body can’t tolerate certain nutrients .”

“Ensuring these patients receive the nutrition they need is complex – we don’t just tell everyone to eat salad."

"We work closely with the wider medical team as well as with the patient and family themselves,” Clare said.

Eating doesn’t always come naturally for some children. Feeding can be complex and involves many bodily functions. The mealtime environment for some families can often be a challenging time.

“We help parents and carers to nourish their child but also finding special ways to make sure, regardless of dietary requirements or ability, children can be included in mealtimes. Food is very social, after all. ” Dietitian, Alex Bartrop said (pictured above with mum, Kerryn, who is also a dietitian).

Within the Network, our dietitians provide services to both inpatient and outpatient groups as well as offering specialised clinics for cystic fibrosis, disabilities, gut failure, liver disease, inborn errors of metabolism, hyperlipoidemia, surgical lung, neurogenetics, weight management, diabetes, Epidermolysis Bullosa and Prader-Willi.

“The most rewarding part of being a dietitian is being able to see how powerful food can be and the difference it makes for our patients and families.”

“The common bond that all parents and carers have is that they love to see their child growing, full of energy and life and we are in the privileged role of being able to contribute to that,” Alex said.

Thursday, 19 September marks Dietitians Day and is a chance to raise awareness about the difference dietitians make and how their dedication helps to achieve better health for all communities.

If you are concerned about your child’s growth or nutritional intake, you can visit you GP and request a referral to a paediatrician. Patients seen at Sydney Children’s Hospital Network require a paediatrician’s referral and are assessed based on clinical priority.