Ethics: Are You Violating the Code of Ethics
for the Dietetics Profession?
The American Dietetic Association and the Commission for Dietetics Registration have developed a Code of Ethics for all dietetic practitioners. Read the following scenarios to see how much you know about the principles of the code.
I was just offered an exciting new job position in community nutrition. In this role, I will conduct courses, provide nutritional assessments, and develop marketing materials. During the interview, it was mentioned to me that as part of my job I would act as a “supplement and food product salesperson.” I am well aware of the many controversies surrounding some of the most popular supplements and fortified food products. Should I accept the job?
Answer: The first principle of the Code of Ethics reads, “The dietetics practitioner conducts himself/herself with honesty, integrity, and fairness,” and the second principle reads, “The dietetics practitioner practices dietetics based on scientific principles and current information.” The code also specifies that “the dietetics practitioner promotes or endorses products in a manner that is neither false nor misleading.” Bearing this in mind, you should inform the hiring professional that you must adhere to the Code of Ethics, and that while you would gladly present current information about the supplements and food products, you would not present any misleading information about the benefits and risks of these items in order to sell more product.
I am a vegan, and have followed this diet for many years. When my clients tell me how much meat and milk they consume, I want to scream. These foods are so bad for them and for the environment. Lately I have printed information off of the Internet to try to persuade more people to embrace the vegan lifestyle. Is this OK?
Answer: What you are doing is probably not OK. The Code of Ethics states that a dietetics practitioner must present “substantiated information” and “interpret controversial information without personal bias, recognizing that legitimate differences of opinion exist.” Furthermore, it is stated that the dietetics practitioner “provides sufficient information to enable clients and others to make their own informed decisions.” No credible research has proven that in order to assure good health one must embrace a vegan lifestyle. However, substantiated research does show that a diet that provides plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is healthy. Other research reveals that people who limit their meat consumption may prevent certain health conditions. Dietetics practitioners should stick to presenting the facts that research has proven.
One of my longest-standing clients recently was diagnosed with a painful health condition. My mother has the same condition and has a wonderful physician who has successfully treated her for years. My client’s physician is not treating her as well as I would like. I told her what medications and therapies worked well for my mother. I also told her about a few herbal supplements that my mother takes, which seem to really help. This week my client informed me that she had told her doctor what I had said. Her doctor replied that just because it worked for my mother does not mean that it would work for her and that I had “overstepped my boundaries as a dietitian.” Did I do something wrong?
Answer: The doctor is correct. You have overstepped your professional boundaries by making these recommendations. You recommended herbal treatments, medications, and other therapies without knowing what other medications or supplements your client is taking and without taking her personal medical history into account. The Code of Ethics states that a dietetics practitioner “recognizes and exercises professional judgment within the limits of his/her qualifications and collaborates with others, seeks counsel, or makes referrals as appropriate.”
I have worked in an acute hospital for nearly 20 years and recently have decided to start my own business as a consultant. I am in the process of drafting my advertisements and want to say that I have “successfully treated hundreds of people with a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, renal disease, and obesity.” Can I make this statement?
Answer: The answer to whether you can make this statement is whether or not you could prove that it is true. If you were questioned, would you be able to define “successful treatment” and to prove that you provided such to hundreds of people? The Code of Ethics says that, “The dietetics practitioner who wishes to inform the public and colleagues of his/her services does so by using factual information. The dietetics practitioner does not advertise in a false or misleading manner.” You could say something like, “As a registered dietitian working at ‘such and such facility’ for almost 20 years, I have counseled many individuals with a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, renal disease, and obesity.” A simple telephone call could confirm all of that information.
I am a chief clinical dietitian and an intern coordinator at a large, teaching medical facility, which is affiliated with a large university. It has a very good dietetics program. I prefer to give students and graduates from the associated university any available internship slots and to hire them as dietitians at our hospital. Is this unethical?
Answer: The Code of Ethics is pretty clear on this point. “The dietetics practitioner provides objective evaluations of performance for employees and coworkers, candidates for employment, students, professional association memberships, awards, or scholarships. The dietetics practitioner makes all reasonable efforts to avoid bias in any kind of professional evaluation of others.” It is highly recommended that all hiring managers and intern coordinators have a detailed process for choosing employees and interns, and make their criteria for choosing employees and interns clear and available to all applicants.
References and recommended readings
American Dietetic Association. American Dietetic Association/Commission on Dietetic Registration Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics and Process for Consideration of Ethics Issues. Am J Diet Assoc [serial online]. 2009;109:1461-1467. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=7994. Accessed December 28, 2009.
Review Date 12/09