What Is a Nutritionist?

A nutritionist is an expert in the relationship between food and health. These professionals work with patients to apply principles of nutrition for disease prevention and to promote healthy lifestyles. Read on to learn more about this occupation, its education and licensure requirements and its economic outlook. Schools offering Fitness & Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

Nutritionists work with individuals or groups to plan healthy diets. In addition to helping patients plan meals, these professionals provide nutrition monitoring and make any necessary changes to the plans. There also responsible for keeping track of each patient's progress. Nutritionists may work one-on-one with patients who face specific health concerns, such as diabetes. They may also work with food service providers to create healthy meal plans for large groups in schools, long-term care facilities and other settings.

Some nutritionists also provide educational services or programs to inform the public on strategies for healthy eating, or they might consult with food manufacturers that are developing nutritional products. Most nutritionists work in hospitals and other clinical settings where they coordinate food service programs or work with patients on developing nutritional programs. However, others work in public health departments, community organizations and private practices.

Education and Certification

Most nutritionists earn a bachelor's degree in food and nutrition, dietetics or a similar field. These programs provide a background in biology, nutrition and chemistry, and students often do an internship. Many nutritionists also complete graduate study. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) lists accredited programs in nutrition and dietetics on its website.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that licensure is usually required in most states. In addition to having a bachelor's degree, nutritionists need to take an exam and have some supervised work experience to gain licensure. Although not required, many nutritionists also become Registered Dietitians. The ADA's Commission on Dietetic Registration awards this credential to those who meet its educational requirements and pass an exam. There are also specialized certifications available.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the BLS, dietitians and nutritionists will see faster-than-average job growth of 21% between 2012 and 2022. This growth is attributed to an aging population and increased awareness of healthy eating on disease prevention. The BLS notes that having certification and graduate education can improve job prospects.

Dietitians and nutritionists earned $56,300 on average annually in May 2012, reported the BLS. The bottom 10% of workers were paid $33,980 or under, while the top 10% earned $78,720 or more per year.

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