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Fighting Childhood Obesity: A Dieticians Story

Kate owns her own private practice that specialises in childhood obesity. She is a Registered Nurse and completed a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney.

Are we really in the era of an obesity crisis?

Since 1980, the percentage of obese children aged 6 to 11 has doubled, and the percentage of obese children 12 to 19 has tripled. The latest figures show that 25.1% of Australian kids aged 2-17 years are overweight or obese.

So yes, it is a conversation we need to have.

You are a qualified dietician and a nutritionist that specialises in this area. Can you tell me a bit about your day to day role?

In my role, our first goal is to help parents recognise the signs of childhood obesity and the risks involved. Then, we want to teach them ways to improve their families’ health.

Many parents of obese children don’t seem to believe their child has an eating problem, or is even overweight.

They will buy their kids super-sized soft drinks and snacks bursting with calories without giving a second thought to potential health hazards. They might consider someone else’s kid obese, they often describe their own obese child as ‘stocky’ or ‘still having their baby fat,’

In my experience, parents can feel so guilty and ashamed to think that they’ve failed their child, so they can blindly fail to recognise the issue in their own family. It’s avoidance.

A patient will come in via referral (another family or a doctor) has recommended that they seek some advice and a plan from a dietician. Firstly, it’s about educating them on childhood obesity and the associated risks. Then as a team we need to understand how we [the family and I] got to this point and, more importantly, how to correct it. From this point I will develop a plan with them – meal plans, prescriptive ingredient lists, exercise plans and lifestyle shifts.

Parents often know what they should be doing but arrive in my office expecting either a miracle or some secret way to get the job done more easily.

I can’t blame them. The food and diet industry, of which I am a part, drives fads to boost sales, and reports every new breakthrough – again to sell.

The other part of the job is to set goals. Parents can loose perspective on what is ‘an achievement’ for their child. They are too emotionally attached.

Do you ever get frustrated?

Yes! I also get angry because the nutrition industry has let so many people down. The promotion of muesli bars as a ‘healthy snack,’ come on?!

I also get frustrated at how resistant people are to changes that will improve their health.

Often people will try fad diets over and over again.

But I never think, “How on earth did you let yourself get like this?” because the reality is more complex. Stress, trauma and socio economic circumstances all drive how we eat.

There are so many health experts out there now…are there enough jobs in the industry for up and coming dieticians?

How to say this diplomatically…

I think we are in an age where some nutritionists seem to think that just because they own a mouth, have a grasp on their own healthy eating and live an inspiring lifestyle – they’re experts; but owning a car does not make you a mechanic.

Don’t look on Instagram and think, “there are so many food bloggers already, I can’t be a dietician,” that is completely incorrect. Dietetics means working with clinics, hospitals, communities, schools, families, individuals that are suffering from disease or intolerances because of their consumption. It’s a science and health based job and the demand is growing, particular in the public sector.

How does someone become a dietician? 

In order to become a dietitian and join the DAA and the APD program, you’ll need to first undergo and complete a dietetic program which is accredited by the Association.

A list is maintained by the DAA. Just google it

So you could do an Undergraduate program like,

  • a combined undergraduate/masters degree
  • a dietetics/other subject double degree
  • an integrated dietetics undergraduate degree

Or if you’ve already studied an Undergraduate and want to go back to retrain you could enrol in,

  • a masters degree in dietetics and nutrition or dietetics
  • a postgraduate diploma in dietetics

Check out our Course Finder here

What is your advice?

For high school students, I would advice that they have an understanding the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist.

It’s important to understand the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian in Australia and the different career options that are offered.

The main difference between the two is that as well as, or as a part of their qualification in human nutrition, a dietitian will have undertaken more intense theory, supervised and assessed professional practice in medical nutritional therapy, clinical nutrition and food management.

It’s a good idea to spend time researching the job market to make sure you have a clear understanding of the relevant training needed and to ensure you have the appropriate background in science to pursue a career in dietetics.

What’s your career story?

Nutrition has always interested me.  When I left school I went into nursing – because I didn’t know what else to do – and I began to realise the importance of diet and exercise to preventing illness. I also lost a lot of weight myself, and experienced how differently I felt, how much more easily I could move around and how much easier it was to be healthy.

So I was qualified and working as a Registered Nurse, and then I chose to go back and study a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney.

How difficult is it to start your own clinic?

It’s very hard, but so rewarding. When I first started my business, I took every paid opportunity that came my way. I was placed on the referral list for a large hospital (the one I had worked at as a Registered Nurse and then interned at during my Masters) and immediately started receiving tons of referrals, most of which were for clients outside of my ideal base – children suffering obesity.

A few months later, I accepted a side job as a clinical dietitian at the hospital, which turned into 2-3 days a week, because I couldn’t say no when they needed help and I was scared of not making money. I was focused on making money, not building a business. After 6 months of private practice, I was overwhelmed, not all that fulfilled and the part time job had stagnated the growth of my business. I needed to step back and rebrand purely for the client I wanted, and I haven’t looked back since.


Want more articles like this? Career Ladder for a Clinical Dietician, 17 – 25 years old + I teach people what to eat + Do you need to study nutrition? + Inside personal training and starting your own fitness business

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