Nutrition key factor in many health issues

By Raewyn Court

Deepti Duddumpudi advises patients on dietary needs. Photo / Supplied
Deepti Duddumpudi advises patients on dietary needs. Photo / Supplied

Appropriate nutrition is essential for growth, development and maintaining health; inadequate nutrition is now accepted as an underlying cause of many chronic diseases, including diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers.

A Bachelor of Science degree in Human Nutrition can be studied at Otago or Massey universities. Students learn about the contribution nutrition makes to human development and health, as well as its role in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

The three-year degree at Otago's Dunedin campus covers macronutrients, vitamins and minerals and health (physiology and biochemistry of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals); anthropometry; dietary assessment; foods and food patterns; obesity; diabetes; malnutrition in developing countries; food service operations and management; sport and exercise nutrition; metabolism, health and disease; life cycle nutrition; nutrition and health communication. Most papers have practical labs or tutorials as well as lectures.

The traditional career path for those wanting to put their nutrition degree into practice is dietetics. The University of Otago offers a postgraduate programme in dietetics as well as distance-taught postgraduate courses in community nutrition for graduates outside Dunedin.

Graduates may also pursue careers in public health nutrition, health education, teaching or in the food, fitness or pharmaceutical industries.

The graduate
Deepti Duddumpudi
Clinical nutritionist, Surgical Obesity Services

I have been interested in the health and nutrition field from a very young age. My interest in food and cooking and people's perceptions of food fascinate me, so towards the end of high school I decided to move to Dunedin to pursue a BSc majoring in Human Nutrition. I graduated with my degree in May 2010.

My decision to choose this qualification was a combination of extensive research about the programme on offer and also the great student life that we so often hear about. I call it the decision that has shaped my life. The skills I gained from my lecturers and tutors were extremely valuable and I have made lifelong friends.

In my final year at university, I started developing an interest in epidemiology, which explores the spread of disease within populations.

It was then I realised the impact that obesity has on the prevalence of disease, and I started looking into weight loss and bariatric surgery, which is surgical alteration of the digestive system's anatomy to limit the amount of food eaten and digested. Bariatric surgery is a developing field, and I consider myself lucky to be part of such an experienced team of surgeons and health professionals at Surgical Obesity Services.

Obesity is currently placing a very heavy burden on precious public health funds. My passion and motivation for the job comes from the multi-disciplinary approach that we, at the clinic, apply in order to help patients improve their quality of life by making positive and permanent changes to their diet and lifestyle.

My role as the clinical nutritionist is to advise pre- and post-operative patients on their dietary requirements through the different stages of their weight-loss journey. My qualification is the backbone of knowledge that I apply every day when assessing diets and developing new regimes for patients.

Most papers in my degree had a practical component to them. When studying nutrition, it is really helpful to have practical, hands-on experience. It allowed us as students to understand theory at a much deeper level. The research skills that I gained in my final year will be of great advantage to me in order to keep up to date with the literature in the field.

The programme co-ordinators were extremely helpful in the amount of knowledge they shared with students. The practical applications were stimulating but challenging at the same time. There was a good balance of theory and practical, and the assessments were always designed in a way that would contribute to the overall understanding of the subject.

The lecturers and HOD had a wonderful sense of humour and, surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed attending my 9am lectures.

The employer/manager
Zola McDonald
Clinical nutritionist, Surgical Obesity Services

During the recruitment process, we were looking for someone who had clear and confident communication skills. In this fast-paced role, we needed someone who could learn quickly, as they would be learning on the job. We needed our nutritionist to be a firm rule-maker who is good at setting boundaries, is a capable learner and is committed to finishing the task at hand to a high standard.

Deepti's qualification gives a good background in nutrition, as well as practical and research skills.

However, as little is taught about bariatric surgery at university, specific training for this position will be given on the job.

Employees need to consider whether the nutritionist is able to mould to teaching the specific high-protein, low-carbohydrate dietary requirements of bariatric surgery patients.

Nutritionist

Bachelor of Science (Human Nutrition), University of Otago

Contact: (03) 479 7959,

human-nutrition@otago.ac.nz, www.otago.ac.nz

Entry requirements: NCEA university entrance, minimum age: 16. Students are advised to have studied chemistry to the equivalent of NCEA Level 3 as well as biology and statistics to NCEA Level 2, preferably Level 3.

2011 tertiary fees: $5522 domestic, $23,500 international.

Application deadline: December 10.

Starting average hourly rate: $25 to $30.

- NZ Herald

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