More so than ever before, we are reminded daily that the old clich is accurate – we are what we eat That being said, it stands to reason that the role of nutritionists and dietitians becomes more valuable to our overall health going forward. These professionals help treat and prevent illnesses by recommending modifications in our eating habits, and in general, by promoting healthy eating habits.
Dieticians and nutritionists not only make suggestions on what we should be eating, but they can also help us understand how to modify the preparation of our food by eliminating excess salt and fat, making our meals healthier. They also manage food systems for institutions, conduct research, and in general, provide education. Nutrition professionals can be found in hospitals, nursing facilities, and in some community programs, such as weight loss programs.
If you aspire to become a dietician or nutritionist, you should know that at the least, you will need a Bachelor’s degree, with a graduate degree also an available option. Students in these programs can expect to take courses such as: nutrition, chemistry and biochemistry, biology and microbiology, as well as physiology and institution management.
As with many professional occupations, these are not without licensure requirements. Although requirements vary by state, most require some type of license or certification. Keep in mind that dieticians with specialized training, an advanced degree, and state certification can expect to obtain the best job opportunities.
Employment in this field is expected to grow due to the increased emphasis on disease prevention and increased awareness of obesity and diabetes. Another contributing factor for job growth is increased Medicare coverage to include nutrition therapy for diabetic and renal patients. Hospitals and nursing facilities employ many dieticians and nutritionists, although the latter may see a slight decline due to outsourcing to food service companies.
Also, employment growth could be constrained if employers substitute with other workers, such as food service managers or dietetic technicians, to do the work related to nutrition. In some cases, the demand for these services is related to patients’ abilities to pay out-of-pocket or with health insurance. The good news, however, is that more insurance companies are covering these therapies because of their preventative properties.
In addition to employment growth, additional jobs will result from the need to replace experienced workers who will retire. The best opportunities will be for applicants with specialized training, advanced degrees, and state certifications. Demand for dieticians will be particularly strong in outpatient care facilities, and applicants without a Bachelor’s degree will face tough competition.