Australia has approximately 26,000 registered exercise professionals (REP), in comparison with 3,379 accredited practicing dietitians (APD). The REP workforce has the potential to reach more than 10% of the Australian population but there is limited data on their educational background and professional behaviors with regards to nutritional counseling of clients. The purpose of this research was to determine if REPs are working within their scope of practice and if their qualifications align with their practice, specifically as it relates to nutrition advice. Using a cross sectional descriptive study design, a self-administered online survey of REPs was conducted over 5 months. REPs were recruited through electronic and social media using a snowballing technique. The study focused on education, nutrition advice, and sources of information. A total of 286 respondents completed the survey, including 13 with tertiary dietetic qualifications i.e., APDs. The nationally recognized industry Certificate III/IV in Fitness was the most common qualification. The majority of REPs responding (88%) were working outside of their professional scope of practice, offering individual nutrition advice to clients across fitness and medical issues. This was despite 40% of REPs undertaking no further training in nutrition since graduating, and primarily basing advice on use of readily accessible sources of nutrition information. It is recommended the nutrition advice provided to REPs during training be limited to general nonmedical nutrition information in accordance with nationally endorsed evidence based guidelines and that issues pertaining to scope of practice be addressed with onward referral to other health professionals be advocated.
The authors are with the School of Health and Sport Science, University of Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.