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Do Hospitals Need Nutritionists?

Thursday, September 29, 2016 | 12:00 AM

About a third of all patients entering the U.S. hospital system are malnourished, and those patients often experience longer hospital stays and higher rates of readmittance due to complications. Furthermore, the cause of malnutrition is not always a lack of food but rather an unbalanced nutrient intake. Hospital executives recognize that nutrition is vital to healthcare and seek to address the deficiency by recruiting nutritionists and dieticians.

Improving Outcomes

Hospital nutrition is crucial because it improves a patient’s ability to recover. For bedridden patients, even minor complications can extend hospital stays, which can lead to hospital-acquired infections, pressure ulcers and other problems. Rebecca Vesely, writing for Hospitals & Health Networks, reports that nutrition intervention can reduce avoidable readmissions by 28 percent and hospitalization by two days. Better nutrition can also improve healing. Vesely goes on to report that there is a correlation between a healthy diet and a 14 percent decrease in complications and a reduction in common healthcare-acquired conditions.

How Do Nutritionists Make an Impact?

In hospital settings, nutritionists and dieticians have many roles. One of their responsibilities is establishing hospital nutrition standards by determining the kinds of food on the menu. Recently, hospitals have also taken a more proactive approach by personalizing patient meals based on the patient’s condition. Some patients suffering side effects from medications may find even their favorite food unappetizing, not to mention the healthier foods they may need. Healthcare teams must come up with a nutritional alternative. Dieticians can use supplements as a temporary solution while the nutritional team develops another option or waits for the side effects to subside. Some hospitals have streamlined the process by adding a nutritional component to their electronic health recording systems that nutritionists can access to address imbalances.

Nutritional Leadership

For all patients, hospital nutrition is only one aspect of their recovery plan. Nutrition at home is just as important to maintaining good health. Hospitals rely on nutritionists who can assume leadership roles, promoting nutrition at home after a discharge from the hospital. These leaders often hold a Master of Science in Health Sciences with a concentration in nutrition, a degree that includes coursework like nutritional research and healthcare communication. Combining soft and hard skills helps nutritional leaders develop effective plans that cater to patients.

More importantly, nutritional leaders can train and inspire their teams to increase communication and follow-up with patients. These leaders ensure that the hospital offers healthy options that are easy to make at home. They also take taste preferences into account and work to discourage poor eating habits.

Nutrition is becoming a vital branch of health promotion and disease prevention in hospitals across the country. How vital is it? Since 2010, the Hospital Healthy Food Initiative has spread to over 17 hospital systems, including big name systems like Kaiser Permanente and the Cleveland Clinic. As the initiative continues, expect more hospitals to seek out nutritionists with the leadership qualities necessary to advance a pro-nutrition agenda in their hospitals.

Learn about University of Texas Rio Grande Valley MSHS in Health Sciences Concentration in Nutrition online program.


“Dietitians and Nutritionists.” (2015, December 17).
BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook

Le Maire, Y. & Delcey, M. (n.d.). “Pressure Sores and Other Complications of Immobilization.”

Vesely, Rebecca. (2014, March 11). “Hospitals Put Nutrition on the Front Burner.”

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