For a multitude of reasons, individuals may be required to follow nutritional programs. The health professionals delegated the responsibility of developing nutritional plans for these individuals are the trained and educated nutritionists. Usually, the nutritionist works with patients who are ill, who are recovering from an illness, or who require special diets to promote and maintain good health. They are often instrumental in developing plans for weight loss programs. Nutritionists develop meal plans and often meet with clients for progress monitoring. They often work under the direction of a physician, but must possess the ability to be self-directed.
To become a nutritionist, one must minimally complete a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition, dietetics, or a related field of study. Advanced degrees are also available in the field of nutrition. To earn a nutritionist degree, students can expect to complete coursework in foods, nutrition, institution management, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, and physiology. The candidate for a nutritionist degree should also expect to complete a number of other related courses including classes in mathematics, statistics, computer science, business, psychology, sociology, and economics.
Forty-five states presently require that nutritionists possesses either a license or certificate. One state requires that practicing nutritionists be registered. Regulations vary from state to state, so it is important to determine the qualifications required by the state in which the nutritionist will be employed. There is currently no national certification in place for nutritionists. Information obtained in a 2008 report by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that over 60,000 dieticians were employed in the United States. Approximately half of this number was reportedly employed by hospitals, outpatient care facilities, nursing and extended care facilities, and in the private offices of physicians. Most of the remainder was employed by government agencies including correctional facilities, public schools, and public health departments at both the state and local levels. A small number of those with a nutritionist degree were employed in the private sector, working in private colleges, the airline industry, and company cafeterias.
The rate of employment growth for those with a nutritionist degree is expected to maintain a steady rate, with about a 9% increased predicted throughout the decade from 2008-2018. With a large portion of the population now acutely aware of the risks of obesity, there may be some increased demand for nutritionists. Another reason for possible expansion is due to the recently expanded Medicare coverage for nutritional therapy for patients with diabetes and renal disease. As with most other health-related occupations, candidates with more training, experience, and education often receive the best opportunities for employment.
Salaries for nutritionists vary depending on the facility in which they work. Outpatient care facilities tend to offer the highest salaries, with an annual salary of just over $52,000. Following closely behind are general medical and surgical hospitals, paying an average annual salary of just over $51,000. The special food service industry reports the lowest yearly salary of around $45,000. As with most occupations, salaries for nutritionists vary throughout the United States. Typically, the northeastern states and California tend to hire more nutritionists, and salaries are slightly higher in these areas. However, the base salaries for nutritionists do not vary as much as for some other health care professionals.