Dietitians play an important role in your health journey | Western Cape Government


Dietitians play an important role in your health journey

5 June 2024

Healthcare providers within the public healthcare system treat many people accessing services living with either a single or multimorbidity of chronic illnesses in the Western Cape. In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that about 80% of deaths that occurred in low- and medium-income countries resulted from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Prevention is better than cure, to decrease the number of people being diagnosed with chronic illnesses in our communities, the Western Cape Government Health and Wellness has placed a significant focus on wellness for a healthier person, family, and overall community. Our dietitians are one of the key professions in our healthcare setting who play a crucial role in assisting people living with chronic illnesses to take control of their health. International Dietitians Week, which is observed from 3-7 June, coincides with World Wellness Day and is a fitting opportunity to showcase and celebrate our dietitians' role in the Department.

Dietitians are experts in the science of nutrition with vast knowledge and understanding of the importance of nutrients and their functioning in the human body. They are qualified and legally regulated health professionals who work in the public sector such as hospitals, clinics, and communities as well as privately to assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems using scientific evidence.

“A healthy lifestyle is not limited to healthy eating but includes many other aspects such as physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Ongoing research and findings suggest that many diseases and life-threatening conditions can be prevented and reversed through dietary and lifestyle changes,” says Dale Patience, Dietitian and Therapeutic and Medical Support Services Programme Co-ordinator, Western Cape Government Health and Wellness.

“Our main priorities are focused on preventing Chronic Diseases of Lifestyle, and we therefore play a key role in focusing interventions to create awareness on the importance of a healthy diet and together with other disciplines, focus on increasing and promoting awareness of the importance of physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Dale.

Our healthcare Workers provide care to many people accessing our services who come from vulnerable communities. Challenges are detected where intervention is needed for the health and safety of the individual when it comes to their health and food security.

“Within our public healthcare spaces, dietitians are detecting people accessing care who have food insecurity and access to resources which impacts the effectiveness of Dietetic intervention. It is difficult to counsel patients when there are limitations to the types of foods available in the household, but being aware of our community living standard measures, and financial challenges, our dieticians tailor meal plans that are practical, cost-effective, healthy, and nutritious, and able to feed a large household which will keep people fuller for longer,” says Dale.

With the increase in accessibility to smartphones and electronic devices, more people are becoming nutrition experts, giving false advice, and marketing products not backed by scientific evidence but led by likes and followers. “The issue with social media is that our communities become vulnerable to purchasing products and following diets which promise quick and unrealistic results and are often detrimental to the health and wellbeing of our communities,” says Dale.

“It is important that Dietitians keep up to date with social media trends and ensure that education is focused on providing scientifically sound and evidence-based nutrition information and support to clients. We do urge our communities to refrain from false information and consult with a dietitian before following fad diets associated with social media trends,” says Dale.

To create awareness on International Dietitian Week and Wellness Day, our dietitians across the province share practical tips to consider when planning a healthier eating lifestyle and fitness schedule.

“If you cannot afford the fruits and vegetables at your retail stores, then consider purchasing fruits and vegetables from the local vendors, they are cost-effective and you would also be supporting small community businesses,” says Kristi Overmeyer, Dietitian from Heideveld Community Day Centre (CDC). 

"Exercise is any physical movement that uses energy. You should exercise at least 30 minutes daily for 5 days per week. Exercise has numerous benefits, including improved mood, better sleep, reduced stress, strengthened heart, muscles, and joints, and reduced risk for conditions like Type 2 diabetes. So, make every step count! " Nadene Polayya, Dietitian, Knysna Hospital.

“Making a healthy lifestyle change can affect you mentally but start small by eating meals in moderation and smaller portions. Drink water before and after meals. Make small health changes per week or every second week, such as reducing three tablespoons of sugar in your tea or coffee, to two or one until you are ready to stop using sugar in your drinks completely,” says Quanita Salaam, Dietitian, Mitchells Plain and Crossroads Community Health Centres. 

Reasons to consult with your dietician:

You can visit your local dietitian at your healthcare facility for advice on weight gain as a result of a medical condition, weight loss safely and sensibly, problems feeding your baby or childsuffering from digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, heartburn, if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or you are experiencing symptoms of a food allergy or intolerance.

Wellness starts with you and me, so let’s make small lifestyle adjustments to improve our health. If you require dietetic support, ask your local healthcare provider for a referral, or to make an appointment for a free consultation at your nearest healthcare facility.