Our History

A Short History of Dietitians New Zealand

The New Zealand Dietetic Association was founded in 1943 with 47 active members, and the first AGM and Inaugural Conference were held in Wellington, 16 – 18 May 1943. The inaugural conference drew more than 50 delegates – this was remarkable for mid-war time. A wide-ranging programme included addresses on professional topics, visits to hospitals, and business sessions to ratify the association’s rules, objects and constitution.
The annual subscription for an active member was 10/- ($1.00) per year, and 5/- (50c) for associate members. Life membership was also available for a one-off subscription of 8 guineas ($17.60).

Today, 74 years later, we have a new name – Dietitians New Zealand (2010); membership stands at approximately 600.

Looking back in time
The first known diet sheet was circulated in Auckland Hospital 1886. It was an offshoot from army rations. Its Author, Dr Philson, was physician, surgeon, administrator and, of necessity, dietitian. Patients diet was later included in the Terms of Reference in a Royal Commission Enquiry into the management of Auckland Hospital in 1904 – suffice to say the quality of the meals and food did not fare well in a patient survey. At that time the Matron dictated the food served in the Nurses Home and the Manager and House Steward were entrusted with patient’s food – in reality it was probably the Cook who said what left the kitchen for the Wards. The Commission noted ‘…it appears to us to be much more the province of a woman than a man to superintend the distribution of food to patients’.

During the early 1900’s much work was done to improve dietetics and the profession slowly emerged. In 1934 the seeds of a New Zealand Dietetic Association were sown at a meeting of the Home Science Alumnae at which time it was suggested a branch be formed of qualified dietitians, however, the idea lapsed. The idea was not reconsidered until 1937 and application forms were sent out in 1939. It was this first group of applicants who formed the nucleus of the New Zealand Dietetic Association with the aim to:
• To further the knowledge of nutrition throughout New Zealand
• To raise the standards of dietary work
• To provide facilities for those interest to meet for discussion of all matters pertaining to nutrition

By 1942, with dietetic training about to begin in New Zealand, there was an urgent need for the new Association to become active and planning commenced for an inaugural General Meeting & Conference in 1943.

On reflection the establishment of New Zealand’s dietetic profession, dietetic training and the New Zealand Dietetic Association (latterly renamed Dietitians NZ) was largely the work of a small group of highly accomplished and effective women. They would have been considered remarkable people today given the role widely expected of women 75 odd years ago – they must have appeared something quite extraordinary!

Branches and Special Interest Groups

Branches were first established from 1970. There are now seven branches of Dietitians NZ; Auckland, Waikato Bay of Plenty, Central Districts, Wellington, Northern South Island, Christchurch and Southern Districts.

Special Interest Groups (SIGs).  SIGs are useful for bringing practitioners together, for highlighting new practice initiatives, for creating professional development opportunities or just to provide a sounding board for practitioners new to the speciality.

Consisting of members representing various professional practice specialties of the Dietitians NZ Inc for the purpose of furthering the interests of the group.  There are currently 17 SIGs, of which Diabetes was the inaugural group.


Our history would not be complete without a brief look at the training of Dietitians in New Zealand. The first dietitians in NZ hospitals were trained overseas, in USA, Britain and Australia. The first New Zealander to train was trained at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore.

In the late 1930’s discussions about establishing training for dietitians in NZ began in the late 1930’s. The University of Otago, Department of Health and Hospital Boards would collaborate to support and provide training. The syllabus drafted then remained the core of training for 40+ years until a major revision in the mid-1980s. The first qualifying examination was in June 1942.

The first badge for qualified NZ Dietitians was a Department of Health Badge, used from 1945-1953. In 1954, when Dietitians Regulations were first gazetted and dietetics became a registered profession, the lozenge shaped badge in use today was introduced.

In 1974, the Report of the Board of Health Committee on the Dietetic Profession highlighted that training was no longer fit for purpose. A revised curriculum, devised using DACUM (Developing a Curriculum), a competence-based programme, was introduced in 1985.

After six years of this curriculum, the training programme took another step up. In 1993, the University of Otago Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics (PGDipDiet) was established. Students were based in one of five training centres, and linked by the University of Otago’s distance learning network.

In 2012, two-year Masters programmes in Dietetics at University of Otago, University of Auckland and Massey University were introduced. Now, twice as many students are trained than in the PGDipDiet days, and to an advanced level. These dietitians are work-ready on graduation, with evidence-based training programmes equipping them for diverse roles in healthcare within and outside the traditional hospital environment.

History Book – the first 50 years

History Book – the third quarter century