The History of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at UKZN
The Department of Home Economics and Dietetics (known after 1976 as  Dietetics and Home Economics) was founded at the then-University of Natal in 1971 thanks to demand from quarters such as the Federation of Womens’ Institutes of Natal and East Griqualand, and the efforts of then-Head of Biochemistry, George Quicke. Due to its community focus and similarities in academic foundations such as Biochemistry, the discipline was housed with Agriculture instead of Medicine.

The first head of the department was Eva Ricketts, with the first students admitted in 1973. Later notable staff members included Elma Nel (also the first chairperson of the Professional Board for Dietetics in South Africa), Eleni Maunder, Marie Paterson and Sheryl Hendricks.

 


The department was the first in South Africa to offer the qualification in English and quickly progressed to offer not only a Bachelors degree, but also Honours, Masters and Doctoral degrees. It also graduated its first group of black dietitians as early as 1977.

The Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics was first offered in 1987, enabling graduates from the three-year Bachelors degree to register as professional dietitians at the institution instead of having to leave Natal to achieve this.

 An important link to the department was the Community Resource Management programme, which evolved from and eventually split from the discipline of Dietetics and Home Economics. In 1992, Dietetics and Home Economics underwent a name change to Dietetics and Community Resources, but from as early as 1973, with the appointment of Maryann Green, students from Dietetics and Home Economics were lectured in the discipline. Maryann Green and Sheryl Hendricks Masters graduates in Community Resource Management in the late '70s and '90s respectively.

Maryann Green obtained her PhD in the United States in the 1980s and returned to lend her new expertise to the training of postgraduate students in Community Resource Management. Dr Green was later joined by Ann Haselau (Food Science) and Sue Hodgkiss (Clothing and Textiles), and Sheryl Hendriks (Household Resource Management and Small Enterprise Development).

In 1992 Home Economics transformed into Community Resource Management (CRM), as part of a Bachelor of Social Science degree. This discipline covered a range of themes, including consumer behaviour, project management, household resource management, housing with a development focus, process and theories. Students had the opportunity to work with NGOs, governmental departments and other community-based organisations to facilitate hands-on learning and community-focused expertise. This successful programme produced valuable graduates that have been able to communicate meaningfully to various sectors of society in the economic development of the informal sector. 

  

Prof Sheryl Hendriks

After the split of Community Resource from Dietetics and Human Nutrition, several changes saw the programme being phased out, especially following the retirement of Maryann Green (who still gives valuable input as an Honourary staff member). Elements of the discipline still play an important role in the teaching, research and training in Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and Food Security.

Significant research historically undertaken by the discipline included Penny Love's (the first PhD graduate from the discipline) work on the development of Food-Based Dietary Guidelines for South Africans older than seven years of age. This research marked the first time that there were standard nutrition guidelines based on the country’s cultural diversity that aimed to address problems faced by healthcare professionals.

The department has been situated in the basement of the Rabie Saunders Building since 1979.


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