Health Education, otherwise known as nutrition, is the science that helps us understand and evaluate our nutrient intake and assess our health. Health Education in schools aims at preparing students for key roles in implementing nutrition education into their daily lives. In this way, nutritionists also help the students in developing an awareness of healthy eating. In fact, most health educators work closely with health educators, both individuals and groups, to implement community nutrition initiatives.
The need for a public health nutritionist is evident everywhere. The increasing number of overweight and obese people, the increasing incidence of chronic disease, such as diabetes, and the aging of the baby boomer generation are all indicators that the nation’s nutrition needs are no longer being met. This has prompted many public health organizations to call for increased focus on nutrition education and implementation into school health programs.
However, while there are many important issues at the national level, there is a dearth of locally focused nutrition efforts. Many school districts have incorporated educational nutrition programs into their existing health care programs, but there is no central coordination or mandate for these programs. As a result, many school districts have adopted standards and curriculums that are more flexible, geared more toward earning statewide accreditation or waiver of federal certification, than those that are rooted in local practice. There is a dire need for professionals to step up to address this gap, and for school professionals to network with other professionals at all levels of the field.
Schools that offer continuing education programs for nurses and other health care professionals are increasingly important. At the middle and high-school level, programs that integrate nutrition education and clinical expertise to offer students the opportunity to develop lifelong habits that will help them live healthy lives. At the college level, professional development in nutrition is particularly important because of the need for advanced degrees in nutrition and other health disciplines. Professional development in nutrition can prepare students for careers in occupational settings like food service, school or hospital management, or research, where they will need to apply research findings and expertise to a wide range of problems. In some instances, professional development may lead to a position at a major research institution, where a student would be able to influence important medical and public health decisions.
Continuing education programs also provide schools with an invaluable resource for professionals. In particular, programs developed by the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) and the Council on Childhood Obesity can prove extremely valuable to health-care professionals. NASN provides a variety of opportunities for school nurses to gain professional development, including workshops and seminars, as well as access to updated publications on nutrition information. The Council on Childhood Obesity offers similar opportunities. However, these programs can only be offered to current NASN members. Because of the limited nature of the council’s activities, any aspiring nurse must first become a member of the council.
Professional development in nutrition education is just as important for professionals working in the field as it is for teachers and students. In both cases, a student who wishes to pursue a career in healthcare will need to complete relevant nutrition courses and training. These may include courses in elementary or secondary school, health care administration, psychology, human growth and development, or biology. The health care industry is particularly concerned about the kinds of dietary changes that are necessary to maintain productivity and meet standards of quality in its employees.
As noted, health-care professionals have a specific role to play in nutrition counseling, which is largely what Dietary Guidelines are designed to do. In order to effectively counsel patients about healthy eating, health and dietary practices, health-care professionals need to understand nutrition and how it relates to their patients’ particular illnesses and needs. Some of the many practical applications of nutrition counseling include promoting weight control and maintaining physical fitness. Also, some of these professionals work closely with patients and families to create a comprehensive dietary plan, which helps to make healthy eating a part of every patient’s regular routine.
If you are a health-care professional who desires to educate others about dietary changes, and if you feel strongly that it is your responsibility to set the examples for your patients, then you will likely find that it is not an easy task. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations that have developed tools, curriculum, and informational materials to help you communicate your message. In addition to using the tools provided by such organizations, you may also find that your own studies will inspire you to develop further research about the impact of dietary changes and to devise your own dietary recommendations. When you implement dietary recommendations, you are taking an important first step on the road to becoming an effective health-care professional and helping to ensure the overall well-being of the American public.