Written by Alyssa Walker

Among all the differences in humanity, food is one of the few things that unites all of us. We all need to eat to survive. Sometimes, we need help figuring out what to eat and when. There are places in the world where people struggle to eat enough and other places where people struggle because they eat too much. Then there are those who have major issues consuming food that allows them to function and those who need help making the right choices to ensure their health.

Enter the field of nutrition and dietetics.

Nutritionists and dieticians are qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose, and treat health problems at the individual level and work to solve health problems at the public health level.

Their work varies from private clinics to larger hospitals and governmental departments. They work in the food industry, the workplace, catering and hospitality, athletics, and the media. Their work can also span the sectors of mental health, learning disabilities, community health centers, and public health centers.

Nutritionists and dieticians work within teams of other professionals to treat complicated health conditions like eating disorders, food allergies and sensitivities, diabetes, chronic fatigue, kidney failure, IBS syndrome, malnutrition, and other health problems. They work to help individuals and to influence health policy to ensure the health and safety of the general population.

Here are five things to know about the field of nutrition and dietetics.

1. Nutritionists and dietitians have high earning potential and are in demand!

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2016 and 2026, the field will see a 15 percent increase in demand, which far exceeds the average. By 2026, they predict that there will be a need for 9,900 more dieticians and nutritionists.

In 2017, nutritionists and dieticians made an average of $60,000 in the US. ZipRecruiter recently reported the 50 highest paying cities for dieticians and nutritionists, with the US’s major east coast and west coast cities coming in higher than average.

2. Nutrition and diet are important to overall health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity worldwide has tripled since 1975, with over 1.9 billion adults, age 18 and older overweight. 650 million were obese. They report that “Most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.”

Children, too, have suffered from poor nutrition. The WHO also reports that 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016.

Poor nutrition, either from undernourishment or obesity, increases the risks for chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and other conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Nutritionists and dieticians work to help people establish good connections between healthy weights and overall health. They work with individuals and policymakers to help communities eat right, stay physically active, and live healthy lives by making good food choices.

3. There are many different career opportunities

While dietitians and nutritionists have similar job functions, they’re not identical career choices.

A registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN) studies food, nutrition, and diet through an approved curriculum completes an internship and passes an exam. Dietitians interpret and communicate nutritional science to help people make informed decisions about food an lifestyle in terms of their health and disease.

Nutritionists don’t have the RD or RDN title. While they have a formal education, they do not have licensure. They study nutrients in food, and the relationship among diet, health, and disease. They often work with food manufacturers and food scientists in creating food and sharing information with the public.

Both dietitians and nutritionists can work in similar fields, especially in the field of nutritional therapy. Nutritional therapists work in complementary medicine, typically in concert with doctors and other healthcare providers to help patients make healthy food choices. Therapists work with mental health patients suffering from eating disorders, and clinical patients suffering from digestive diseases.

Within the field is a lot of variation, too. Sports nutritionists and health coaches also have the opportunity to make an impact in specialty areas. Former and amateur athletes can stay in the game by working as a nutritionist or dietitian for a sports team, as athletes’ nutritional needs differ from those of the general population.

Health coaching has also taken off in recent years, with one-on-one assistance to those seeking to improve their lives. Health coaches combine nutritional advice with overall health and wellness advice to patients seeking not only to improve their diet but their physical activity, too.

Within the field, there are ample opportunities to work in private practices, community settings, hospitals, schools, government offices, gyms, and wellness facilities.

4. The industry is evolving

As science and technology evolve, so too does the food we eat. Food science is a growing field that requires diet and nutrition experts to help individuals and policymakers understand the benefits and drawbacks to creating more of the food that we eat.

In a recent article in Science Focus, what we eat in a mere 10 years from now may be tailored to our genome. Personalized nutrition may just be an option wherein we’ll have the capacity to tailor individual dietary needs with food modifications.

Lab-grown meat is no longer a thing of science fiction, either. Some environmentalists see avoiding meat and dairy as one of the biggest ways to reduce negative climate impact. To this end, scientists are finding ways to produce lab-grown animal protein--without the animal.

How do we know if this protein is any good for us? We have nutritionists and dietitians studying it, of course!

5. You need at least a bachelor’s degree  

Both fields require coursework in biochemistry, physiology, applied sciences, nutrition, dietetics, social science, and behavioral science. Those seeking licensure will have to pass the necessary exams.

In the US, the Commission on Dietetic Registration Exam (CDR) is required for registered dieticians. For nutritionists seeking licensure, check out various requirements on NutritionEd.com, which gives you a breakdown of requirements by state.

In the UK, you’ll take similar coursework at a university program approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HPHC), the regulator of all health, psychological, and social work professions.

In Europe, the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians, or EFAD represents 33 National Dietetic Association members, representing over 35,000 dietitians in 29 European countries and 38 Education Associate Members, and covers two additional EU countries.

Australia has similar requirements as the US, the UK, and Europe. The Nutrition Society of Australia, the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) and the Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) oversee individual accreditation and help students chart their university paths so that they can earn accreditation upon graduation.

The field of nutrition and dietetics is rich with opportunities for those looking for a healthcare profession that can make a positive impact on individual lives all the way up to public health policy.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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