Students of Nutrition & Health think that nutritionist should become a protected title. As it is now, self-proclaimed experts are confusing consumers. Students have therefore started a petition.
Students Brenda Narninx, Jelle de Jong and Nathalie Wilmsen. Foto: Jet van Ballegooij
Nutrition is a hot topic and the number of ‘nutritionists’ is rapidly increasing. People can’t see the forest for the trees anymore, thinks bachelor’s student Brenda Narninx. She has drafted the petition together with master’s students Nathalie Wilmsen and Jelle de Jong. ‘This large number of experts leads to a lot of discussion on the topic of nutrition and at some point, people will start doubting the credibility of nutritionists, regardless of their education.’ Brenda also noticed it in her circles: ‘My aunt read on the internet that it is healthy to eat two eggs a day, but someone else claims that eggs should be avoided in general because of the cholesterol contained in the yolk.’
This situation is eating away at the student. ‘During our study, we are taught to carry out scientific nutritional research upon which we base nutritional advice. I am sad that this information is unable to reach everyone and that it is so hard for people to differentiate between scientifically founded advice and mere opinions. If it would be my word against that of Sonja Bakker or Rens Kroes, I already know whose advice my aunt will listen to. This problem is not exclusive to the Netherlands: a similar petition is being drafted in the UK too, for example. I hope that with this acknowledgement, it will be easier for people to estimate the value of information.’
The Nederlandse Academie van Voedingswetenschappen (‘Netherlands Academy for Nutritional Science’, NAV) provides accreditation to students who have finished their master’s. Brenda: ‘This certainly looks good on your CV, but it doesn’t mean much to the average person.’ The NAV supports the students’ idea, she says, ‘but we also have to see whether it is truly achievable and how it should be organised, meaning which programmes would be considered for this title, for example.’
The petition was launched last week. About 500 people signed it in the first few days. ‘We need 40,000 signatures before we can present the petition to the House of Representatives. I do not know whether we can achieve that and whether they will follow up if we do. Most of all, I want to make people think, realise that information on nutrition should be approached critically and question what is said and by whom.’
The petition is available here (website in Dutch).
‘I think the petition is a good initiative,’ says Rolf Marteijn, programme director at Nutrition and Health. ‘It needs to be clear that a person has studied their subject and hopefully that will make people more aware that nutrition science is not simple and clear-cut.’
There is interest in this issue in government circles too, claims Marteijn. ‘The government is going to develop an app, for instance, which gives people information about a healthier diet. So it is a good idea to draw attention to the discussion about the difference between scientific knowledge and experience-based knowledge. Marteijn declines to speculate as to whether parliament can act on the call to make nutritionist a protected title. ‘The government has a list of recognized, precisely defined professions such as pest controller or diver. It is a bit trickier for nutritionists because the professional field and the range of qualifications are broader. In health care there are more broadly formulated professions, such as doctor, dentist, physiotherapist and dietician. But a nutritionist does not directly come under health care professions.’ The programme director is going to talk to the initiators to see how WUR can support them.