MEET THE DIETITIAN: COMMUNITY SERVICE SERIES

By Jemima Meyer

As a dietitian especially enthusiastic about community health development and digitalising healthcare, I can’t wait to harness the potential of digital technologies to improve our food and nutrition systems. But first I’ll have to complete my community service year.

After graduating from the University of the Free State, I was placed at the South African Military Health Service in Bloemfontein. At the military clinic, I spend most of my time treating patients with lifestyle diseases (obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels) and other conditions (e.g. HIV, TB, allergies and IBS). I am responsible for promoting health by launching community projects. I also pay monthly surprise visits to military messes to evaluate hygiene and the nutritional adequacy of their menus.

Though I have considered studying a wide range of disciplines (data science, genetics, physiotherapy, music, sound engineering, journalism, you name it), I don’t regret choosing Dietetics. The impact that simple dietary changes can have on a person’s emotions and quality of life is astounding. I also love the controversy in nutrition science. As dietitians, we have to analyse research findings and methodology and compare it to other available studies. In that way, we constantly challenge and update our views. Nutrition science is a tricky research field because researchers cannot simply perform RCTs (randomised clinical trials) to establish the effect of food on health. Usually, we have to make do with looking at the relationship between food intake (actually, what people report eating) and health outcomes. We also have to account for the effect that other variables may have on health. For example, if a population group that drinks a glass of red wine every day has a lower risk for developing cardiovascular diseases, can we assume that wine has some sort of preventative effect? Or is this positive outcome rather because of something else (e.g. financial or lifestyle factors)?

The most frustrating aspect of this occupation is that few people understand why dietitians work in hospitals or clinics. It is common for people, upon meeting a dietitian, to ask about weight loss, banting, veganism, intermittent fasting … Hopefully, in time, it will become general knowledge that dietitians are also responsible for tube feeding and intravenous feeding; and that nutrition plays a pivotal role in preventing and treating gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, HIV, TB, kidney disease, liver disease, burns, etc.

When I’m not busy being a dietitian, I like to meet new people, play the piano, and compose songs. I also enjoy writing and am currently busy with my debut poetry anthology.