Dietitians and nutritionists combine culinary skill with health science, creating meals, menus, or recipes for a wide range of patients and clients. Dietitians who work with individuals and families as diet counselors may help prepare meal plans with healthier options for obese or at-risk families. Other dietitians, called clinical dietitians, work in hospitals and nursing care facilities and consult with patients with nutritional and weight issues or to organize the medical facilities' food service. Management dietitians oversee the food service of other large private and public facilities, like schools and corporate offices.

Like health educators and fitness workers, dietitians are tasked with convincing people to change deep-set and dangerous eating habits. To do this, they need to be able to make healthy food that is also tasty, affordable, and relatively simple to make.

As more people are made aware of the critical importance of good diet in schools, hospitals and communities, more food service managers are forced to either consult with dietitians or learn aspects of healthy diet and nutrition themselves.

Nutrition Science Career Opportunities

Related Careers: Dietitians and Nutritionists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 60,300 working dietitians and nutritionists in 2008. As the population grows in general, and people become more aware of the importance of proper diet, there will be increased demand for dietitians. The occupation is expected to add 5,600 jobs by 2018, for a new total of 65,800 jobs. That 9% growth rate is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Real job opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists will be better than those modest projections. According to the O*NET a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be 25,700 openings for qualified dietitians and nutritionists from 2008 to 2018. That figure includes the 5,600 new jobs the BLS predicts AND existing positions vacated by retirement, career changes, and early termination.

The BLS BLS notes that hospitals will continue to employ the largest forces of dietitians and nutritionists, but the fastest growth will come in private consulting companies and contracted food service providers as large facilities outsource their food needs.

Nutrition Science Earnings

According to the BLS the median yearly wages for dietitians and nutritionists in 2008 were $50,590. The middle 50% of the field made between $41,060 and $61,790, while the bottom 10% earned less than $31,460 and the top 10% earned more than $73,410.

According  to the BLS, dietitians and nutritionists earned significantly more than national median annual wages for all workers. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Earnings vary by educational achievement, work experience, and employer. Keen competition for jobs means that in addition to the best career opportunities, candidates with advanced degrees and certifications will command the highest salaries.

Median wages by employer type varied widely, from a median of $49,000 for clinical nutritionists in acute care up to $66,000 for dietitians and nutritionists in education and research.

Nutrition Science Educational Benefits

The BLS reports that a bachelor's degree in diet or nutrition science is generally required for entry-level positions as dietitians and nutritionists and for those workers in the 35 states that require rigorous licensure.

Even in states that do not require bachelor's-level diet and nutrition education, keen competition for jobs will likely mean that positions will go to those candidates with the best educational and experiential backgrounds.

According to the Occupational Information Network, the vast majority – 72% – of dietitians and nutritionists aged 25 to 44 have a bachelor's degree or higher. 15% have some college, including associate's degrees and certificates, and the remaining 14% have a high school diploma or less.

A large majority (72%) of dietitians and nutritionists have earned a bachelor's degree or higher. Source: Occupational Information Network

A bachelor's degree in diet and nutrition science generally takes 3 to 4 years to complete; master's degrees generally take 2 years.

Coursework at the bachelor's level generally includes liberal arts and science classes, physiology and anatomy, and specific dietetics and nutrition science and management courses. Master's-level programs generally include more rigorous applied nutrition science and foodservice management courses.

Nutrition Science Degrees Online

Degrees Possible: Bachelor's and Master's Degrees

There are a number of nutrition science bachelor's and master's programs online. These programs are generally accepted by those 35 states that require licensure, but check with your admissions counselor or state licensing board before committing to any online nutrition science program.

The best online nutrition science degrees will offer a rigorous and thoughtful education as good as those offered by local ground schools in a more flexible format that may be better suited to the working student.

As with any serious educational decision, do your research when picking an online nutrition science program: is the school accredited? Will credits transfer? What is the school's job placement rate? What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically? You'll be able to find the answers to many of these questions on this family of Web sites, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor the tough questions.

Nutrition Science Skills and Abilities

Dietitians and nutritionists should be experts of food: nutritional composition, benefits, and even taste. Many dietitians and nutritionists come from the food-service industry, and translate their passions for food and culinary skills into what can be a better-paying and less stressful career.

Many dietitians and nutritionists are never directly involved in food preparation; these professionals function more as counselors and educators. They should have excellent communication and listening skills, and be in command of the scientific facts that support their lifestyle message.

There are many relatively new computer programs designed for dietitians and nutritionists and their clients. Like health educators, dietitians and nutritionists may use PowerPoint, Excel, and other programs to create pamphlets, presentations, and personalized diet planners. While technology skills are not required, they may add another dimension to their professional capabilities.

Nutrition Science Qualification and Advancement

Generally completion of a bachelor's degree in nutrition science, online or at a ground school, and a passing score on state licensing exams (if the state requires licensure) qualifies graduates for entry-level positions as Dietitians and Nutritionists.

Advancement often requires graduate work in nutrition science.

Additional Information

The American Dietetic Association maintains a Web site at http://www.eatright.org.