Using Food as Medicine with a Nutrition Dietetics Degree

Nutritionists and dietitians are responsible for creating healthy eating and nutritional programs for institutions such and hospitals and schools. They also work with individuals and small groups. On a smaller scale they help prevent and treat illness and disease through nutrition.

People skills are at least as important as scientific and analytical skills for a nutritionist or dietitian. Understanding human behavior is crucial to helping people follow healthy eating behaviors and special diets. An interest in biology and chemistry are also highly desired traits. Opportunities exist for nutritionists and dietitians to work as part of a large institution or to own their own business; in any case, positive interaction with clients or patients is crucial to success.

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Nutrition and Dietetics Degree Information

The minimum academic qualification required for certification as a nutritionist or dietitian is a bachelor’s degree. Degrees are typically earned in dietetics, food and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, students typically spend several hundred hours in supervised training. This may be an internship following graduation, or hours incorporated into the degree itself.

Nutritionist and Dietitian Curriculum

The coursework to become a nutritionist or dietitian is based in science and includes classes in biology, chemistry, nutrition and physiology. Students also take courses in human behavior; storage and preparation of food; nutrient metabolism; and the role of diet and nutrition in disease.

Getting a Degree Online

Online and offline programs offer degrees in nutrition. Online programs can offer more cost and schedule flexibility for those who need it. Find a degree program that suits you by using our “Search Schools” form on this page.

Differences Between Dietitians and Nutritionists

While the terms dietitian and nutritionist are often used interchangeably, there can be differences if the dietitian is registered (RD). The national Commission on Dietetic Registration credentials registered dietitians, and many employers prefer or require the RD credential. Most states require additional state licensure, which is typically parallel in requirements to the RD credential. RDs are required to complete continuing education in order to retain their credential.

There is no uniform licensing board for nutritionists in the U.S. In some states, the job title is completely unregulated, while others require state licensure; therefore, you will probably be more easily hired and promoted as an RD. >

Career Opportunities

Upon earning a nutrition or dietetics degree, graduates can expect to tackle common health concerns such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes across a multitude of industries and segments including, but not limited to the following:

  • Food manufacturing
  • Health agencies
  • Private health care clinics
  • Nursing care and correctional facilities
  • Marketing
Apart from more traditional career paths as nutritionists, earning a degree in nutrition and dietetics opens doors to other roles such as a consultant dietitian, who is employed to monitor and advise a client on their fat intake and cholesterol reduction. A graduate can also assume the role of a management dietitian who is tasked with ensuring food safety standards are maintained at large facilities.

Earning Potential

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found the median salary for a nutritionist or dietitian to be $53,250 per year or $25.60 per hour in 2010. Wages and job opportunities increase for nutritionists who achieve graduate degrees and/or specialize.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected job growth for all dietitians and nutritionists is above average at 20% between 2010-2020. A growing awareness of the role of diet in disease prevention, an aging population, and changes in Medicare to cover nutrition therapy are all expected to drive job growth.

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Are there career differences between nutritionists and dietitians?

Typically, dietitians work in large settings such as hospitals, prisons and schools. They can be nationally credentialed as registered dietitians and follow standard training and continuing education requirements. Nutritionists have no national certification available and in states without licensure requirements, can practice as nutritionists without a college degree or supervised clinical experience. Other states require the licensing of nutritionists. Terminology differs between states, and you may be known as a licensed nutritionist, a licensed dietitian or simply a nutritionist. Nutritionists may be in private practice and work one-on-one with clients to help solve obesity and other diseases through nutrition. These divisions are generalized and many dietitians work in smaller settings, while nutritionists with licenses can work in institutional settings.

What can I expect in a job as a nutritionist or dietitian?

A thorough knowledge in biological sciences, food science and institutional management are required. Equally important are people skills. The ability to listen carefully, interpret non-verbal clues and understand human behavior is essential to success in the field. Most nutritionists and dietitians work with clients or patients at least part of the day. A few work in research laboratories and do not have regular client contact.

Typical job duties are meal planning for large groups of people within a budget while providing good nutrition; one-on-one meal planning; and community education regarding nutrition and disease prevention.

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