Profile of public health nutrition personnel: challenges for population/system-focused roles and state-level monitoring.
OBJECTIVE: Our 3 objectives were to document the current public health nutrition workforce in the United States, identify top public health nutrition priorities for the next 5 years, and assess the capacity of public health nutrition personnel to address these priorities and the nutrition-related objectives of Healthy People 2000. DESIGN: A census survey was distributed to public health nutrition personnel in all state and local health agencies and nonprofit and for-profit agencies funded by official health agencies throughout the United States and US territories. Also, state and territorial nutrition directors were sent a different questionnaire. SUBJECTS: Data were collected from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and 2 territories; 7,550 public health nutrition personnel were represented. STATISTICAL ANALYSIS: Data were analyzed using EpiInfo software. Descriptive statistics are presented. RESULTS: Almost half of the respondents worked in local or county health agencies and about two thirds were involved in direct care services. Only about 40% were registered dietitians and about one fourth had a master's degree. Almost 90% of all full-time equivalent positions were funded through federal dollars; 78% of all funding was from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Top health concerns identified were diet/nutrition to prevent chronic disease, low breast-feeding rates, low birth weight, iron deficiency anemia, and obesity/overweight. Public health nutrition personnel will be challenged to assume population/system-focused roles and state-level monitoring of Healthy People 2000 objectives. Only 2 of the 17 nutrition objectives of Healthy People 2000 were monitored by more than 50% of the states. APPLICATIONS: If official health agencies are to shift to public health core functions, as recommended by an Institute of Medicine report, then a substantial proportion of the public health nutrition workforce must not only change how they practice but also obtain the knowledge and skills to do so. Strategies to improve workforce capacity are discussed, including continuing education interventions through professional organizations, distance and on-campus educational opportunities through approved public health nutrition programs, and advocacy for new funding streams focused on public health core functions.
Haughton, B; Story, M; Keir, B
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