ATLANTA—Nutrition alumna Tamara Melton, RDN (M.S. ’06) is changing the face of nutrition and dietetics professionals through her non-profit organization, Diversify Dietetics, which is focused on increasing opportunities for minorities in her field.
Melton founded Diversify Dietetics, along with fellow registered dietitian (RD) Deanna Belleny, to create a community of students and nutrition professionals devoted to helping minorities.
Food often reflects a person’s culture, values, habits and lifestyle. Diversity among registered dietitians increases the likelihood patients will have a provider who understands their background. While all dietitians should be caring and respectful of their patients’ culture, a dietitian of similar upbringing may break through language barriers and better understand cultural issues related to healthy eating.
The demographics of nutrition professionals have changed little in the past decade, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In the meantime, the U.S. population has become more diverse, with a 39 percent minority population.
“Food is closely linked to one’s culture, and having RDs who represent all of the world’s diversity will help us to provide the highest quality, culturally relevant care,” said Melton, who has received the 2019 Award for Excellence in Diversity Promotion by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If we want to stay relevant as nutrition experts, we must reflect the communities that we serve.”
Less than 10 percent of registered dietitians in the U.S. are minorities, but nearly 24 percent of Americans are a minority, including 18 percent of Hispanic heritage.
Diversify Dietetics brings together nutrition students and young professionals of all ethnic and racial backgrounds who are underrepresented in the field. The organization offers educators’ workshops, virtual mentoring and networking opportunities around the U.S.
Melton hatched the idea for an organization to recruit and nurture minority students to the field of nutrition and dietetics while she was an instructor and recruiter for health professions in the Georgia State Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions. She led a team in developing the newly founded bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in clinical health informatics degree program, jointly operated with the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, to fill the need for professionals who could manage and interpret clinical data.
“I had a hunch that an organization led by professionals of color, supported by a community passionate about diversifying the healthcare profession, would attract more students of color to the field of nutrition and dietetics,” she said.
There are nutrition organizations dedicated to increasing diversity, and none encompasses all ethnic and racial minorities. None feature a community focused on increasing diversity in the nutrition profession.
The goal is for Diversify Dietetics to fill in those gaps, and complement initiatives of minority interest groups.
During the four years she headed the program, she recruited, educated and graduated at least three classes of primarily minority students, many of whom are successful health informatics professionals today.
Melton credits her community of support in growing and managing the organization. In addition to co-founder Belleny, Georgia State alumna Melissa Connor is the director of communications, and Diversify Dietetics has an active Board of Directors and Advisory Council.
“What we really provide through our organization is a conduit to resources, and the majority of these resources are provided by our community. We are fortunate to have connected with so many of the most passionate, caring and giving dietetics professionals who are willing to donate their time, funds, expertise to help these ‘RDs to be’ to reach their goals,” Melton said.
“Deanna, Melissa and I may lead this organization, but it’s really the community who is the lifeblood. I am really fortunate that I can pick up the phone, shoot out a text or a DM and I have several people who will help me.”
In the coming year, Melton hopes to offer more relevant programming so students and interns may gain more skills to use as they strive to reach their education and career goals. Diversify Dietetics offers scholarships helping students focus on their education.