The State of Males in Dietetics


The field of dietetics is an omnipresent, expanding industry filled with brilliant minds with creative talent, and ambition, all striving towards the same goal of improving what we consume. Having come a long way from our former understanding and relationship with food, nutrition today more than ever, is vital part of our lives and dietitians alike are our gateway to the quintessential understanding of what is on our plates. Diversification is at utmost importance if we stand a chance to keep up and adapt to the rapid development in the industry. This implementation of diversity comes in all forms. Not only in the culture but in gender too.

If food has no gender why should gender be a culprit for who enters the industry?

This is the question I would like to analyse and look at in further detail.

Information and research into the problem proves to be fairly limited and as of early 2020 seems to be a pressing issue we face at the moment. We can first address what we do know.

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics published a handbook that outlines the situation males face within industry. In 2014, the United States had 6000 registered full-time male dietitians whereas 80,000 were women. That equates to a mere seven and a half percent of all registered dietitians in the US being males. The situation however isn’t very different closer to home. The College of Dietitians of Ontario published their 2017-18 registration program highlights and estimated approximately three percent of all registered members were male coming to a total of 111. Although puzzling, these findings are not impossible to imagine considering an instant Google search of “dieticians” and the results swing heavily towards a female presence.

However it is very important to note this is not the first time we see a female-dominated industry. Professions such as veterinarians and registered nurses (RN) have heavily outnumbered males for a number of years. A particularly interesting comparison is RN’s. A report done by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed that, as of 2018, only about nine and a half percent of all registered nurses in Canada were males with a total of just under 38,000. This coincides with the situation in the dietetics industry. Interesting to highlight, the report by the CIHI also found that the supply of regulated male nurses had increased by 17.7% in the previous five years compared to 5.2% for females over the same period. It seems that, at least with the case of males in nursing, their presence seems to be growing over the years. Unfortunately, at this time we do not have retrospective data for dietitians.

Evidently this is a difficult problem or situation to tackle, even more so due to limited data we have. However a few noteworthy explanations or possibilities can be made. A qualitative study done by Gheller, Brandon Jf, et al. (2018) at Mount Saint Vincent University seeked to “explore the male experience of the male dietitian as a minority in female-dominated dietetics”. The males ranged in experience between one to seventeen years. Their results were expressed as feelings of four prevalent themes, including feeling of indifference and otherness, adaptability to a female-dominated culture, construction of a professional identity, and passion as a driver for success. Their conclusion found that the effect of adapting and constructing a professional identity surrounded by female-dominated cultural norms is wide ranging but can be restrictive for male dietitians and consequently affecting their contributions in the field. Although it is important to remember we are not able to infer cause and effect due to the nature of the study.

Despite the slow start, I am hopeful for change.

As mentioned previously, diversification is an integral part of our society thereby a balance must be achieved. Data shows the importance of diversity in a profession with positive correlations between gender diversity and productivity (Ali, Muhammad, et al. (2011)). In addition, current human thoughts surrounding gender either due to religious or cultural norms in the area of clinical and patient care demonstrates a need for both genders to be available. A commonality exits between all industries with gender diversity shows improvements to ideas and solutions presented along with receiving different perspectives to a situation. Certainly we can postulate several reasons for this but I will touch on a couple briefly. Many do as they see being done around them. The idea of conformation to social norms. As a result, to break the mold, current practicing male dietitians and industry alike must lead by example. I believe dietitians and governing bodies must speak out about the career and make it be known to current and future males considering it. Education, I believe plays a crucial role. From an early age we acquire ideologies and norms set out by educators, teachers, family, and media just to name a few. Known as social identity theory, unknowingly we become programmed to think and judge certain ideas—or careers, a certain way. To change this, education must be less selective to gender specific careers and instead motivate all avenues of profession available.

As the study conducted by Dr Joy, Phillip, et al. (2019) concludes, the only way that we will improve male recruitment is by challenging and disrupting the status quo and gender norms.

With an expected increase of two billion people by 2050, as we look towards the upcoming decades inevitable growth in demands with food and nutrition will occur and with that, challenges will come along. Knowing how and what to eat is becoming the problem plaguing our and future generations to come. As a result, for a diverse future we must expand and look towards diverse solutions and I feel that there is no better place to start with than with those that empower us to lead a better life through what we eat. Having dietitians of both genders will be paramount to our success as a society moving forward and will foster quality and excellence that is present in the industry. With up to date, world class education on all things food, industry and educators alike must illuminate the path for both women and men in this exciting discipline.

Only by eliminating a biased persona or female-centered stigma attached to dietetics and nutrition, will we be able to work as one to satisfy everyone’s foodie cravings.

References:

Ali, Muhammad, et al. “The Gender Diversity–Performance Relationship in Services and Manufacturing Organizations.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 22, no. 7, 2011, pp. 1464–1485., doi:10.1080/09585192.2011.561961.

Joy, Phillip, et al. “Men Who Are Dietitians: Deconstructing Gender within the Profession to Inform Recruitment.” Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, vol. 80, no. 4, Jan. 2019, pp. 209–212., doi:10.3148/cjdpr-2019-014.

Registration and Member Statistics. College of Dieticians of Ontario, 2018, www.collegeofdietitians.org/resources/about-the-college/member-statistics.aspx.

Gheller, Brandon Jf, et al. “A Qualitative Study Exploring the Experience of the Male Dietitian from Student to Professional.” Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, vol. 79, no. 2, Jan. 2018, pp. 55–59., doi:10.3148/cjdpr-2018-003.

Canadian Institutes for Health Information. “Nursing in Canada, 2018: A Lens on Supply and Workforce.” Secure.cihi.ca, Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 27 June 2019, secure.cihi.ca/estore/productFamily.htm?pf=PFC3987.

“Nursing Statistics.” Welcome – Bienvenue,

www.cna-aiic.ca/en/nursing-practice/the-practice-of-nursing/health-human-resources/nursing-sta tistics.

Gheller, Brandon, and Daphne Lordly. “Males in Dietetics, What Can Be Learned from the Nursing Profession? A Narrative Review of the Literature.” Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, vol. 76, no. 4, 2015, pp. 166–171., doi:10.3148/cjdpr-2015-016.

Women in the Labor Force: a Databook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/archive/women-in-the-labor-force-a-databo ok-2015.pdf.

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