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Health Answers

When should you see a registered dietitian?

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November 5, 2007

A lot more often than you might think.

The American Dietetic Association (eatright.org) suggests seeing a registered dietitian if you have diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or high blood pressure. You should also consult a registered dietitian if you are contemplating gastric bypass surgery, if you have chronic digestive problems, if you're an athlete seeking to improve performance, or if your child is having growth problems, said Emily Werner, a registered dietitian at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Many pregnant women also benefit from a consult with a registered dietitian.

A registered dietitian, by the way, is not the same as a "nutritionist." Anyone can call him- or herself a "nutritionist," but registered dietitians are credentialed only after passing an exam and fulfilling an internship. In many states, including Massachusetts, registered dietitians must be also licensed to receive third party insurance.

Some insurance companies may insist upon a referral from your doctor because of a medical condition, such as diabetes or obesity, to cover the visit. If you pay out of pocket, the fee is typically $50 to $250 for the first visit, then less afterward.

It's actually cost-effective for insurers to pay for dietitian visits, at least for obese patients with diabetes, according to a study published this year in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and clinical assistant professor at Boston University's Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said, "With over 60 percent of Americans overweight, seeing a registered dietitian is good for your health. Being overweight increases your risk for many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes."

JUDY FOREMAN

E-mail health questions to foreman@globe.com.

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