Profession in Focus

Dietitians working in Learning Disabilities

What is a learning disability?

The Department of Health (1) states that a learning disability (LD) includes the presence of:

  • A significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills (impaired intelligence), with;
  • A reduced ability to cope independently (impaired social functioning);
  • which started before adulthood, with a lasting effect on development.

Where might a dietitian work with people with learning disabilities?

You might come across a person with a learning disability in any setting that you work in, as people with a learning disability access all services that those without a learning disability access e.g. acute hospitals and community clinics.

For people with an LD whose needs cannot be met in mainstream services, Community Learning Disability Teams can provide specialist support. Dietitians may work within the learning disability team or may be accessed via external services.



What dietetic interventions might be provided for people with learning disabilities?

Individuals with a learning disability are more likely to have an underweight or obese Body Mass Index (BMI) compared to the general population (2), therefore, dietitians play an important role in reducing health inequalities related to managing a healthy body weight.

Constipation is a common problem in people with an LD. In the 2020 LeDer* report, it was found that constipation was one of the 10 most frequently reported long-term health conditions among people with a learning disability who died (3). In 2019, it was stated that twelve cases where constipation was the recorded cause of death had been reported to the LeDeR programme to date (4). Dietitians have the skills to support individuals with lifestyle changes that can reduce constipation.

Other examples of dietetic interventions that may be provided for someone with a learning disability:

  • Diabetes management
  • Home enteral feeding
  • Gastro conditions such as IBS and coeliac disease

A person with a learning disability may develop any condition that someone without a learning disability may develop, therefore, may require support for a range of nutritional issues.

* Learning from Lives and Deaths – people with a learning disability and autistic people

If you want a varied and rewarding career, where you can work holistically to improve the health of the learning disability population, and reduce the health inequalities they experience, then yes, this is the area for you!

Interview with a specialist learning disabilities dietitian 

Jessica Lockley, Community Learning Disabilities Dietitian at Leeds at York Partnership Foundation Trust

What made you apply for a job as a learning disabilities dietitian?

I had a couple of experiences growing up which made me think that working with people with learning disabilities would be rewarding, including spending my secondary school work experience at a day centre for adults with a learning disability and having a close friend with a sibling with a learning disability.

When I first qualified as a dietitian, I wasn’t aware that dietitians could have a specialist role in this area, however, I then came across a band 5 mental health and learning disabilities rotational post and decided to give it a go!


What does a day in the life of a learning disabilities dietitian look like?

Every day is different! Working in the community, I manage my own caseload of service users. A typical day might include home visits, a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting, telephone reviews, responding to emails about new referrals and writing up my clinical notes.

In order to help service users to understand nutritional information, I often use visual resources such as food models or create individualised resources to meet the needs of that person, ensuring that the information I provide is accessible, as outlined as a requirement for people with a disability in the Equality Act 2010 (5).


Which other professionals do you work with in learning disabilities?

I work with a range of allied health professionals including speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. I also work with nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and support workers. Our dietetic team is made up of dietitians and dietetic associate practitioners.

I also regularly liaise with social workers, GP’s and staff teams who support people with a learning disability.


Would you recommend this area of work to others?

If you want a varied and rewarding career, where you can work holistically to improve the health of the learning disability population, and reduce the health inequalities they experience, then yes, this is the area for you!


Where can you find out more?

Take a look at the useful links below and follow the following Twitter pages:

Social media accounts for the BDA learning disability Sub Group:

  • Twitter – @BDA_LDSubGroup
  • Instagram – BDA_LDSubGroup




Speech and Language Therapy role in Learning Disabilities

Podiatrist role in Learning Disabilities

Physiotherapist role in Learning Disabilities

  1. Whitaker S, Porter J. Valuing people: a New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century. British Journal of Learning Disabilities [Internet]. 2001 Sep;30(3):14. Available from:
2.Health inequalities: Overweight, obesity and underweight [Internet]. Available from:
  1. NHS England» University of Bristol LeDeR annual report 2020 [Internet]. Available from:
‌4. Learning Disability Mortality Review (LeDeR) Programme: Action from Learning NHS England and NHS Improvement [Internet]. 2019. Available from:
  1. Equality Act. Equality act 2010 [Internet].; 2010. Available from: