Last updated: Sunday December 14, 2008, 4:42 PM
Registered dietician Kyle Shadix speaks passionately about his life's work. In just one conversation, he segues enthusiastically through numerous topics, such as the eating habits of Americans, the connection between wellness and nutrition, food-industry trends, the challenge of owning a business and the evolving role of the dietitian, and still has time to spare for a few favorite recipes and cooking tips.
Talent rises early to the surface they say. Back home in Georgia, Shadix's high school guidance counselor suggested he become a chef, dietitian or food scientist. Not one to leave opportunity on the table (no pun intended), he has studied and qualified admirably in each field. At the age of 38, he has also already taken on numerous other roles, including -- among others -- educator, entrepreneur, consultant and champion for healthful eating.
Shadix, who describes himself as a "shameless self-promoter," provides an overview of his qualifications on his Web site, chefkyle.com: certified chef de cuisine, registered dietitian, spokesperson, professional speaker, author, television and radio personality, and culinary and nutrition consultant. Working primarily business-to-business, he's had a wide range of assignments, from advising on a corporate Web site for the food industry, to helping set up a restaurant offering an innovative menu for children. He teaches at Columbia University in New York City, where he now lives, and travels nationally lecturing on food and nutrition. He writes for various media outlets and is the author of books on various topics, from cooking to career development.
Shadix's résumé may be particularly long, but he is not unlike the many dietitians who are employed far away from the kitchen.
"The majority of dietitians are not in jobs that involve food preparation and serving," says colleague Lona Sandon, national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). It's time to put aside the image of a dietitian as that essential -- but low-profile -- kitchen staffer in the hairnet, Sandon and Shadix agree.
In fact, despite a busy career, it's been 15 years since Sandon, a registered dietitian, wore a hairnet, she says. As assistant professor in clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern School of Health Professions in Dallas, Texas, she teaches and trains dietitians. She is also a frequent lecturer on the topic of wellness and health to community and business groups, and a certified fitness and yoga instructor.In addition, she is an advocate for her profession, and the contribution she and her colleagues make in keeping people healthy and in restoring them to good health following sickness or injury.
The job market for dietitians is not simply growing, says Sandon, but changing. Although the majority of dieticians work in healthcare settings today, an increasing number are practicing in locations outside of hospitals, such as outpatient facilities and physician offices, working in related industries, and consulting as independent contractors to individuals or organizations on a broad range of topics.
An increasing number of her colleagues are venturing out on their own as nutrition counselors and educators.
"More and more dieticians are moving into private practice rather than working in healthcare facilities," she notes, especially with the growing awareness of the importance of early intervention in obesity and pre-diabetes. "There's definitely a slow shift to look at prevention."
Upcoming changes in reimbursement for preventive care by Medicare and Medicaid should result in greater opportunity for dietitians interested in nutrition counseling, Sandon predicts. Furthermore, once Medicare covers a particular type of care, private insurers are likely to follow suit, opening up even greater opportunity for dietitians.
As consumers learn more about nutrition and food production, food companies are employing an increasing number of dietitians to help develop and market fresh and processed food. "Ten years ago, dietitians were not there [part of the food industry]," says Sandon. For example, many are now involved in the areas of uniform labeling and marketing standards, charged with making food not just appealing, but nutritious, too. As the harmful effects of poor nutrition are increasingly brought to light, the food industry is utilizing the skills of dietitians in the effort to meet the growing demand for tasty but healthful choices at the market.
Dietitians are also becoming more involved in health and fitness centers and health promotion, both as employees and consultants. Proper nutrition, weight management, one-on-one counseling, employee wellness, and even routine home food preparation -- home cooking -- are all areas of expertise for which dietitians are being tapped, says Sandon.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of dietitians and nutritionists is expected to increase 9 percent duringthe 2006-16 projection decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job openings will result from the need to replace experienced workers who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons, as well as a growing interest in achieving wellness through diet.
"Dietitians with specialized training, an advanced degree, or certifications beyond the particular state's minimum requirement will experience the best job opportunities," states the BLS. "Those specializing in renal and diabetic nutrition or gerontological nutrition will benefit from the growing number of diabetics and the aging of the population."
Helping transform the way Americans address food and nutrition is a top priority for Shadix. It's his dream to be the national voice for nutrition, the "Richard Simmons of food." That way, Shadix said he would be able to get the attention of mainstream America to teach about what he calls "credible nutrition," while encouraging research and changes in the way food is produced and sold. Food companies and the restaurant industry are not quick to change, he notes, but he's willing to take on the challenge, and he believes America is ready to reshape the way its eats. As a registered dietitian, he possesses what he considers an essential qualification for the job.
Opportunity knocks for registered dietitians, says Shadix.
"The time is right because that's where we are going as a country," he said. "It's top of mind."