In honor of National Nutrition Month and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day on the second Wednesday of every March, I wanted to dive into exactly why Dietitian is spelled with a 't' and not a 'c' and the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist.
But wait, why does the spelling even matter?
I actually didn't think the spelling mattered either. When I first looked into this profession, I thought it was a bit silly that people (mainly RD's) were fusing over spelling, because grammatically, it's not wrong either way.
So, let's start by defining a few terms as outlined in an article from The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
The word dietetics was included in the 1839 Dunglison Medical Lexicon and defined as “a branch of medicine comprising the rules to be followed for preventing, relieving, or curing disease by diet."
In 1899, the word dietitian was coined at the Lake Placid Conference on Home Economics. These women created the first definition of a dietitian: “persons who specialize in the knowledge of food and can meet the demands of the medical profession for diet therapy.”
In 1917, when the American Home Economist Association meeting was cancelled because of World War I, Lenna Cooper and Lulu Graves decided there should be an opportunity for the dietitians in the country to meet and discuss the issues facing the hospital dietitian—and the American Dietetic Association was founded.
In 1930, the ADA executive committee at the 13th Annual Meeting considered a variety of issues, one being the official spelling of dietitian with a “t”—and this was the spelling that was adopted.
When the International Labour Office confirmed the dietetic profession’s classification in 1967, it also adopted the spelling dietitian at the request of the international dietetic community.
Still to this day some dictionaries list dietician as an accepted alternate, but, as noted, the official spelling dating back to 1930 still stands.
Another pressing issue at the time was the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist. In 1940, an ADA committee updated the definition of dietitian to a person “who had college training in the science of nutrition and management and is proficient in the art of feeding individuals and groups.” Whereas, a nutritionist was termed a “qualified, professionally trained person who directs or carries on a program of activities dealing with the application of scientific knowledge of nutrition to the prevention of disease and the promotion of positive health."
Nowadays, the biggest differences between the two is that dietitians undergo much more educational training than nutritionists. Anyone can pay for a certification course online and become a nutritionist in a matter on months. As of right now, the biggest differences between the two are:
However, in 2024 dietitians will have to complete a master's program in a nutritionally-related field (some programs can be 2-3 years) on top everything else before they can officially become a Registered Dietitian. That's the path I chose.
This means that all dietitians are nutritionists (hence the preferred title Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)) but not all nutritionists are dietitians!