Last month Canberra hosted the Dietitians Association of Australia’s 30th National Conference.
As an amateur conference-goer, and dietitian-to-be, I attempted to attend workshops and presentations of varying topics to broaden my overall understanding of dietetics. From these sessions, I was able to get a general grasp of the new bites of research and findings this industry’s professionals have found.
Now I’m not sure about anyone else who attended, but I found there to be a distinct theme running throughout the duration of the conference: MALNUTRITION.
No, I am not referring to the fact that DAA seemed to think we were all malnourished professionals as they provided a substantial amount of food at such regular intervals. Or the excessive amount of free food trials supplied to us delegates at every food break over the 3 days (at least we know none of us will have a calcium deficiency from all the free tubs of Chobani yoghurt we consumed).
I am referring to the issue that many dietitians need to be competent in when treating patients; diagnosing malnutrition and then treating it!
For those readers who are completely unaware of the role of an Accredited Practising Dietitian, a dietitian will not just tell you what to eat in order to lose weight! A common issue that many dietitians try to tackle is the issue of malnutrition.
Many define malnutrition as poor protein status and poor energy intake, while others look at physical characteristics of the patient. One thing I did learn from the Nutrition Assessment workshop (ran by Maree Ferguson, Merrilyn Banks, Judy Bauer and Liz Isenring) is that the Subjective Global Assessment (SGA) is the gold standard for diagnosis of malnutrition.
This method of assessment takes in to account weight changes, food intake, gastrointestinal symptoms and capacity to perform daily activities – and how their food intake affects these factors. It also involves a physical examination which looks at subcutaneous fat, muscle wasting and oedema. From this, a person can be determined as well nourished, suspected/moderateley malnourished, or severely malnourished on a 3-point SGA scale.
As well as this insightful workshop, there were countless research topics that covered the issue of malnutrition.
According to Jane Kellett from the University of Canberra, who presented her findings of a cross-sectional study looking at malnutrition in the elderly, 1 in 5 aged care residents were not considered well-nourished – which is apparently quite low compared to some other studies!
Furthermore, Lauren Stribley informed us of the fact that critically ill patients in the ICU of a hospital are also at increased risk of malnutrition.
It was from this that I can safely say that the role of a dietitian is to not only treat people with over-nutrition issues, but it is just as important to competently treat people that need to increase their energy and nutrient intake for optimal health.
Overall, from a student dietitian’s perspective, I learnt a great deal that I will add to my expanding plate of knowledge and skills.
Thank you to everyone who made my first dietetics conference such a great experience.