What do future dietitians know about functional food?

Paulina Gabryś


Functional food is becoming more and more popular in recent years. According to European Commission Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe (FUFOSE), functional food represents a broad range of products, so it has a working definition rather than a fixed one, and can be summed up as food products with proven beneficial influence beyond the nutritional effect, which is based on improvement of health status, wellbeing and lowered risk of illness. That means these are not pills or other non-food supplements but products which make-up a typical diet. These are not only well known yoghurts but also soft drinks, juices, sorbets, bread, cold meats, sausages, etc. [1, 2]

Graduates of Dietetics at the Faculty of Medicine of the Jagiellonian University Medical College are persons, who after completing their degrees will most often work in hospitals and other health-care facilities, watching over healthy nutrition of patients. These students should therefore be well familiar with the concept of functional food and its components, just to give some examples: probiotics, which are defined as live microorganisms that administered in adequate amount should bring health benefits to the host [3, 4], but also fiber, peptides, proteins, vitamins, oligosaccharides [5]. In order to check whether these students really have the knowledge on functional food and probiotics, a short questionnaire form was prepared and used accordingly.

Materials and Methods

The questionnaire was performed within a bachelor’s degree thesis entitled: “The use of probiotic bacteria in functional food”. It was prepared by the author electronically basing on a free website www.interankiety.pl, and then sent to participants, i.e. all the students of Dietetics at the Faculty of Medicine of the Jagiellonian University Medical College via a social network. It was an anonymous questionnaire consisting of 6 multiple choice questions (MCQ) with only one correct answer (Figure 1). The questions were verified for scientific value and language by the thesis supervisor as well as 3 other independent persons. 93 students participated in the study overall, including 48 students from the 2nd year and 45 students from the 3rd and final year of the studies, representing 84% and 90% of the Dietetics studies’ listeners, respectively.


Figure 1. The anonymous questionnaire that was used in the study. Correct answers are marked in green (1c, 2e, 3c, 4b, 5d, 6e). The original questionnaire was in Polish, the presented form is the English translation.
[please click on the image to enlarge]

Before completion of the questionnaire, the students were given detailed instructions for filling it in electronically. Furthermore a consent form for participation in the study was prepared and signed by each participant. The first request for completion of the questionnaire did not result in much response with less than half of potential respondents answering the questionnaire. After a few days the request was sent again, this time with an individual message to each and every non-respondent, with positive effect and collection of all questionnaires. The time since the first electronic request to final reception of results lasted 2 weeks. Participation in the study was voluntary.


The studied groups of the 2nd and 3rd year students responded to the 6 MCQ with similar results (Figure 2). The most difficult for students were questions no. 2, 5 and 6 (Figure 3). Most students knew the definition of functional food (Question 1), but could not correctly point to products which could in fact be functional food (Question 2). The respondents were unfamiliar with the criteria required for probiotic strains used in food (Question 5).


Figure 2. Correct vs. incorrect answers to all questions - 2nd year (left column) and 3rd year students (right column).
[please click on the image to enlarge]

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Figure 3. Overall respondent answers to questions: 2, 5 and 6 (correct answers are marked in green).
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Question 6, regarding the specific strain genera of probiotics used in humans, was the toughest of all for respondents: there were no students who answered this question correctly from the group of 3rd year students and only 5 respondents from the group of 2nd year students answered correctly (Figure 4).


Figure 4. Screenshots from the original Polish online questionnaire showing answers to question 6 - 2nd year (top) and 3rd year (bottom) students.
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In questions 1, 3 and 4 the majority of students gave the right answers. But looking at results of these three questions from the opposite end, as many as 23% of students at the brink of completing their studies don’t know the definition of probiotics and almost 1/3 of future dietitians consider functional food an enigma.


The advantage of performing the questionnaire electronically via internet was the speed of execution of the study, with results being available immediately after form completion. Furthermore, the participants could fill-in the questionnaire in their preferred time and place, as long as they possessed an internet connected electronic device. For the younger generations this is the more preferred platform from the traditional hardcopy questionnaire form. Unfortunately the disadvantages of using the electronic media include: low response rate – the author had to repeat the request individually, which is time consuming having in mind as many as half of the 93 participants, and also using electronic resources and internet aids by respondents (despite requests by the author). For example it’s enough to type in key words, such as ”probiotic” or ”functional food” to be pointed to their definitions. This may also explain the results to some questions, to which the students answered uniformly well (e.g. Question 1). On the other hand questions which would need advanced browser engine searches, requiring deeper knowledge, turned out to be answered incorrectly by most respondents in the two analysed groups (Questions 5 and 6). In such case, the traditional hardcopy questionnaire performed by surprise in specific ”exam settings” would work much better. But then its disadvantages would include manual analysis and calculation of results which may be error-prone, and a more time-taking analysis of results. On the other hand younger people could be less willing to perform the voluntary questionnaire if it was the traditional hardcopy. But it’s feasible that the results of such paper questionnaire would then be much worse, since the respondents would not use any additional help.

Also, of note is the fact that only single participants of the study from the overall group of 93 tested students asked for the correct answers to be sent to them for review. The other persons did not show much interest and did not want to verify their responses or their knowledge.

To conclude, it is necessary to comment that future dietitians should have an immaculate and complete understanding of the topic of probiotics and functional food. The questionnaire results show otherwise, that their knowledge is not completely satisfactory (3 out of 6 questions were answered incorrectly). It may be necessary to improve this field by e.g. broadening the syllabus with some extra classes and make the future dietitians more aware of the subject by putting more emphasis on functional food.


[1] Diplock AT, Aggett PJ, Alexander J et al. (eds.) Scientific Concepts of Functional Foods in Europe - Consensus Document. British Journal of Nutrition 1999; 81:1-27.
[2] Kołożyn-Krajewska D, Dolatowski Z. Probiotyki w żywności. Polskie Towarzystwo Technologów Żywności, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PTTŻ, Kraków 2010.
[3] Araya M, Morelli L, Reid G et al. Joint FAO/WHO Working Group report on drafting guidelines for the evaluation of probiotics in food. London, Canada: World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 2002.
[4] World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Probiotics in food. Health and nutritional properties and guidelines for evaluation. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 85; Rome 2006.
[5] Kudełka W, Łobaza D. Charakterystyka żywności funkcjonalnej. Zeszyty Naukowe Akademii Ekonomicznej w Krakowie 2007; 743:91-120.

Acknowledgements: The author expresses his gratitude to the Editors and Reviewers for English editing of the manuscript.

Conflict of interest: none declared

Authors’ affiliations:
Dietetics, Faculty of Medicine, Jagiellonian University Medical College, Cracow

Corresponding author:
Paulina Gabryś
47 Główna Str.
34-460 Szczawnica
e-mail: paulinagabrys@op.pl

To cite this article: Gabrys P. What do future dietitians know about functional food? World J Med Images Videos Cases 2016; 2:e5-11.

Submitted for publication: 12 February 2016
Accepted for publication: 18 February 2016
Published on: 19 February 2016

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