Background Dietary factors are responsible for a considerable share of the global disease burden; therefore, nutrition should be viewed as an important component in the treatment and prevention of chronic illness by all healthcare professionals. Physiotherapists are ideally positioned to provide nutrition-related advice to individuals at risk of developing chronic disease.
Objectives To determine physiotherapists’ self-perceived nutrition competence using the validated NUTCOMP tool and to investigate the relationship between previous nutrition education and the self-perceived nutrition competence of physiotherapists in Ireland.
Methods The NUTCOMP tool was used to evaluate the self-perceived nutrition competence of members of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (n=447). Participants’ scores across four constructs of nutrition care were combined to provide a self-perceived nutrition competence score. Pearson’s Chi Square tests were used to determine whether associations existed between demographic variables and participants’ competence scores.
Results The majority of participants were female (81.4%, n=364) and 80.9% (n=362) of those who responded were aged between 25–54 years. On average, participants were practicing as physiotherapists for 17.37±11.22 years, with a range of 0–50 years. 55.1% (n=246) of participants had completed a degree, certificate or other non-degree course that did not include nutrition content while 6% (n=27) had completed an education program that was predominantly focused on nutrition. Physiotherapists were very confident in their ability to provide nutrition care and attitudes towards nutrition were positive. However, their self-perceived competence with respect to nutrition-related knowledge and skills was relatively low. Most participants (70.5%) agreed they required further nutrition education to support them in their future role. Previous nutrition education did not significantly influence participants confidence across the constructs whereas age and years of practice significantly influenced self-perceived competence to provide nutrition care (P<0.05).
Conclusion While Irish physiotherapists have positive attitudes towards nutrition care, they lack confidence in their nutrition-related knowledge and skills, meaning vital opportunities to treat or prevent chronic disease are potentially being missed. This study highlighted a need for further nutrition training among physiotherapists in Ireland. The introduction of competency-based nutrition education should be considered in physiotherapy entry-level curricula and continuing professional development courses.
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