Let’s not forget about dietitians’ contributions in the fight against COVID-19
It has been a tough year, and there are many unsung groups with important roles supporting affected patients and communities in lockdown. Dietitians are one of them. As Nutrition Month comes to a close, let’s shed some light on the often misunderstood work of dietitians.
We all recognize the efforts of dietitians in clinical settings like hospitals especially for patients who are on respirators as part of their COVID-treatment, where mouths are dedicated to breathing versus eating. Dietitians have been essential in planning the enteral nutrition formula that supports the patients’ healing, monitoring progress and making changes to suit the patients’ needs.
But even COVID patients who are not intubated are being cared for by dietitians who are ensuring their meals are designed to promote their body’s ability to fight the virus, minimize hospital stay and allow these patients to be reunited with their families.
Dietitians have always worked with patients whose condition requires nutrition treatment, but it is especially important to use all means to avoid extended hospital stays or keep people out of the hospital altogether during the pandemic.
For anyone living or working in a hospital, long-term care facility, group home or school residence, a dietitian is likely a leader on the food provision team. Meals must be planned to meet the health needs of these groups, including any special dietary considerations, from food allergies to religious or cultural observances. Further, given shortages and supply chain interruptions due to the pandemic, dietitians are involved in planning and procurement, to ensure continuity for those depending on these services.
Take a step into the community—dietitians are using their communications skills to help answer questions and combat misinformation with evidence for the role of healthy eating in immune function and COVID prevention. Dietitians have been using their virtual platforms to connect directly with consumers who are finding themselves in need of additional food skills and support for strategic shopping to maintain a pantry during lockdowns and quarantine, for cooking and recipe modification since eating out is a less available option, and for mindful eating and physical activity to maintain health under stressful circumstances.
Dietitians are also actively involved in facilitating community response to food security issues and food access for vulnerable populations. They are advocates for improved socio-economic conditions for marginalized populations, who are also over-represented among COVID cases. Signs of food insecurity are often an indicator of a household lacking sufficient income, paid sick-leave or housing security.
At the heart of every dietitian is a life-long learner and a team player. Many of our dietitian-peers are contributing through research to the body of evidence for nutritional approaches to help prevent or manage COVID, and leading or participating in research that clarifies the differential nutrition and social determinants of risk for COVID, to inform policies and programs intended to slow the spread of the virus. Further, as committed members of interdisciplinary teams, dietitians have been refreshing their skills to be redeployed within dietetics or learning what is needed as they lend their support to contact tracing, screening and support for vaccine clinics.
Dietitians are a versatile and enthusiastic group of health professionals, who have fearlessly rolled up their sleeves and leveraged their rich set of transferrable skills to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 across the clinical-public health continuum.
In honour of Nutrition Month and Dietitians’ Day, please find one of your dietitian-colleagues and offer them your sincerest appreciation for their efforts in whichever way those have been applied!