What Does a Nutritionist Do?

NutritionistThough influenced by degree focus and job setting, similarities for what a nutritionist does also exist across job platforms. Nutritionists typically study and earn at least a bachelor's degree to begin entry level work, with some jobs requiring higher level, graduate degrees. Job settings vary widely and include schools, hospitals, clinics, public health agencies, dining establishments, senior care facilities, weight-loss programs, recreational venues and private consulting practices. With public health becoming of greater concern than ever before, careers in nutrition are on the rise and graduates with the right credentials can enjoy competitive employment opportunities and career advancement, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Degree Focus and Education

Graduates in nutrition from schools accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) often receive Bachelor of Science degrees with specializations. Popular areas of focus include: dietetics, food service management, foods and nutrition, public health nutrition, sports and exercise nutrition, and nutritional science. Coursework involves significant study of science and developmental courses in: biology, physiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology, human behavior, research methods and practices, disease pathologies, cultural dietary norms and clinical nutrition. Degree requirements also involve supervised training through internships that span several months and accumulate hundreds of hours towards degree completion and future certification. Many graduates with bachelor's degrees then begin their careers while continuing their education at the master's or doctoral levels to assist with certification requirements.

Professional Job Standards

Many states require that nutritionists hold licenses that demonstrate professional competencies. This usually means providing proof of internship hours, possibly taking additional coursework and passing professional certification exams administered by accrediting agencies. Two, common, certifications are:

  • Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential overseen by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential overseen by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists and requiring a graduate level degree and over 1,000 hours of supervised experiences.

Occupational Responsibilities for Nutritionists

Though degree specializations involve work responsibilities specific to that focus, many similar job expectations exist for nutritionists across work settings. These include being able to:

  • Stay abreast of nutritional research and trends as they relate to health and diet recommendations.
  • Create and coordinate food menus from nutritional aspects that address client needs, whether they are located in a hospital, school or recreational venue.
  • Supervise nutritional staff and manage food schedules.
  • Budget for nutritional program costs.
  • Dispense practical eating advice based on nutritional science.
  • Provide nutritional counseling for clients that addresses personal goals for health and physical well-being.
  • Personalize and explain nutritional programs so they are understandable and attainable.
  • Help manage food choices by advising clients how to read food labels and identify appropriate food substitutions.
  • Advise clients how food choices can positively or negatively affect chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity, among others.

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Credentialed nutritionists can enjoy rewarding careers with job satisfaction for helping people achieve their health and wellness goals. Specialized degrees also provide a means for career advancements as the demand for qualified nutritionists grows. As a result, what a nutritionist does makes significant impacts for community health across job platforms.

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