Nutrition, also referred to as nutrition science, examines the links between diet, health and disease. People highly trained in the area of nutrition have the health professional title of nutritionists or dietitians. Working in the field of nutrition requires that dietitians/nutritionists offer specialized healthy and safe dietary advice to those seeking solutions to health problems. As experts in food and nutrition, dietitians supervise the preparation of food, develop dieting plans, and do research in the field of nutritional habits. Professionals can achieve the designation of registered dietitian (RD) or dietetic technician, registered (DTR).
Nutritionists have a passion for food and for eating right. They also devote their lives to being experts in food and teaching people how to live healthy lives through the foods they eat. If you’re interested in nutrition as a major, you’re in luck because not only do they have great opportunities in a variety of job positions, but they also can get very far with a bachelor’s degree.
Generally speaking, a bachelor’s program in nutrition will take about four total years of schooling. In your courses, you’ll learn the following:
- Human Anatomy
- Nutrition Facts
- Communication with Others
- Meal Planning
- Group Health
- Public Health
- Seasonal Foods
- History of Food and Human Processes
A major component of a bachelor’s program will be in learning not just about food but how people interact with food. As a nutritionist, your career will largely be focused on helping people maintain healthy lifestyles and gain positive results from the foods they eat so you’ll need to understand how the human body works to process foods and how that affects the overall health of an individual as well as a community.
Nutrition has always been an important field of study, but the importance is continually growing as the U.S. keeps fighting against an obese population that often doesn’t understand how to eat healthily. As fast food chains keep popping up, the role of nutritionists becomes more vital to the health of the overall public.
Once you complete your bachelor’s program, you’ll be prepared to go out into the field and start your career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most nutritionists hold a bachelor’s degree in the study and may also be required to get a license or certification.
Salary with a Bachelor’s Degree
According to the BLS, nutritionists armed with bachelor’s degrees make about $52,000 per year or $25 an hour. This salary is higher than the average for a lot of occupations, especially for those that only require a bachelor’s degree and a certification or license.
In addition, the BLS says that this career is expected to grow by 20 percent, which is much faster than the average, over the next decade, which means that all of your hard work will pay off with a stable career –one that will be around for many more years to come.
Although most jobs in nutrition require only a bachelor’s degree, those who go on to earn a master’s degree will gain the additional opportunities, higher positions, and higher salaries. According to theAmerican Society for Nutrition, graduate programs in the nutritional field are aimed and increasing the role of nutritionists in the medical field. In other words, the more education and knowledge that can be passed on to medical professionals about the role of food and nutrition in health, the better.
If your goal is to work on research or in medicine related to nutrition, then a master’s degree program is ideal. The following are some of the key skills you’ll learn during a nutrition master’s degree program:
- Health Promotion
- Medical Affects of Food
- Human Processes
- Medical History and Genealogy
- Disease Prevention
- Food-Related Health Epidemics
- Medical Research Relating to Food
- Research Skills
- Working in Medical Offices
These skills are vital to keeping our public and communities healthy in the future, especially as more and more Americans (including children) are fighting against food-related diseases. The correlation between overall health and the food we eat is undeniable, however, it’s unfortunately not widely understood by most American families.
By committing to your nutrition education by getting a graduate degree, you are also dedicating yourself to educating the public through medical research and food-related diseases that can be prevented through positive meal choices.
Job Opportunities and Pay
With a master’s degree in nutrition, more job opportunities are available in medical offices, nursing homes, and hospitals, as well as in health-related research facilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nutritionists who worked in health diagnostics and as practitioners earned an average of $71,490 per year, which is significantly higher than those who hold undergraduate degrees.
A majority of nutrition majors do work full time and at offices or organizations, however, the BLS does note that 15 percent of nutritionists were self-employed in 2010. As a master’s degree holder, that option is available to you if you want to work independently researching and doing consulting for companies or individual clients. With more expertise in the field, you can also choose to work part-time at an office and part-time at home for flexible hours.
It’s important to know also that master’s degree programs will require students to choose a specific focus, so you can hone your nutrition skills to an area such as research or meal portions, or you can tailor your courses to a specific demographic, such as children, to get the exact job you want in the future.
Once you’ve completed your nutrition degree, you’ll likely also need to either become certified or registered as a nutritionist or dietitian. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it’s rare to find a state that has no requirements for either a certification or a license. The BLS also shares that in order to meet the requirements for a license or certification, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree in the field, as well as have a certain number of hours of practice and, usually, passing a licensing or certification exam.
How to Become Licensed or Certified
Because the requirements vary from state to state, it’s smart to check your state’s requirements before taking any major steps. With that being said, there are some commonly accepted certifications that are accepted in the nutrition world. One popular designation is the Registered Dietitian (RD) license. Given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), which is affiliated with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the RD credential has requirements that are often the same as the requirements needed for other state licenses.
According to the CDR, the requirements to become an RD are as follows:
- You must complete a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university
- You must meet all academic requirements that are offered as a part of the “Didactic Program in Dietetics” specifications by an accredited program that works in conjunction with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- You must complete a practice program in which you are supervised (this program also needs to be accredited and recognized by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dieteticsthat works in conjunction with the AND):
- You must complete the “Registered Examination for Dietitians”
- You must complete requirements as stated for the organization’s “Professional Development Portfolio”
After completing all of the requirements and passing an exam, you’ll then be eligible for many job opportunities in the nutrition field, most of which will require this license or another similar. Job opportunities can be found on the AND website, as well as further resources including research, published articles, and help with continued professional development.
Once you’ve earned your RD designation, you must continue your education as long as you want to keep your license. Continuing education requirements are done on an annual basis and must be completed through approved educational institutions (information on continued education can also be found on the AND website).