A quick peek at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services or the Center for Science in Public Interest websites shows some eye-opening statistics about nutrition in America. According to these sources:

  • The typical American diet exceeds the recommended limits on intake levels for refined grains, saturated fat, sodium and solid fats/added sugar.
  • The number of fast food restaurants in America has doubled since the 1970s.
  • Unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the United States, due to obesity- and nutrition-related diseases.

Nutritionists and dietitians have a very important role in today’s society and in helping to reduce the impact of problems like those listed above. Not only do they help prevent and manage diseases often related to genetics or poor eating habits, they also improve people’s everyday quality of living. Dietitians and nutritionists are also interested in food sourcing, and educating others on the importance of real, quality food.

Both registered dietitians and nutritionists should see job growth in the coming years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nutritionist and dietitian jobs are expected to grow 11% (much faster than average) between 2018 and 2028. The median pay for dietitians and nutritionists is $60,370 per year.

What is the difference between a master’s in nutrition and dietetics, and a master’s in nutrition?

Both a master’s in nutrition and dietetics and master’s in nutrition lead to careers in the nutrition and wellness fields. Some master’s programs are designed to be the first step to becoming a registered dietitian. These programs have specific requirements—like internships or field placements—and must be accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).

Other master’s programs have a stronger focus on nutritional health and wellness or community nutrition. For example, the courses in Adelphi’s nutrition master’s program are designed to help students build the skills they need to:

  • Increase public awareness for nutrition and dietary-related diseases
  • Create programs and influence policy to promote dietary health
  • Conduct nutrition research and communicate insights to colleagues and public constituents

In other words, the difference is not about the name of the program, it’s about the program’s learning objectives, the specific courses in the curriculum, and internships/field placements available to students. In many cases, both master’s in nutrition graduates and master’s in nutrition and dietetics graduates can pursue similar careers and credentials. For example, PayScale shows that job titles like clinical nutrition manager are common paths for professionals with either degree.

What is the difference: Dietitian vs. nutritionist?

In the simplest of terms, the role of a registered dietitian (RD) is more regulated than a nutritionist. Registered dietitians need to obtain specific certifications and licensures in order to practice. That said, nutritionists often have a wide range of career opportunities, and less hoops to jump through in order to practice. Nutritionists can also focus their careers in areas like community health, nutrition program and policy development, or in working with people who have diseases with dietary restrictions.

While some MS in Nutrition programs prepare graduates for becoming a registered dietitian, not all of them are designed with this credential in mind — in these cases, nutritionists will need additional education or supervised training if they decide to pursue a career as an RD.

This article will go more into detail about registered dietitian and nutritionist careers in terms of requirements to practice, specializations within the industry and roles within society.

What is a registered dietitian?

A registered dietitian is a licensed professional who offers health advice to patients, teaches individuals about nutrition, and develops, monitors and updates meal plans. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics lists the following requirements needed to become a registered dietitian:

  1. Complete a degree (must be at the graduate level, after January 1, 2024) in a program that was approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  2. Complete an ACEND-accredited supervised practice/internship
  3. Pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s dietetic registration exam
  4. Gain licensure in your state of practice
  5. Complete continuing education requirements in order to maintain your license

Registered Dietitian Career Paths

Dietitians often fall into one of the following three categories: management dietitian, clinical dietitian or community dietitian.

Role Work Settings
Management Dietitians Run overall kitchen operations, develop meal plans, in charge of kitchen staff/other dietitians Corporations, hospitals, cafeterias
Clinical Dietitians Provide medical nutrition to patients Nursing homes, hospitals, long-term care facilities
Community Dietitians Provide educational nutrition programs to individuals and groups Non-profit organizations, government agencies, public health clinics

Source: PayScale

What is a nutritionist?

Nutritionist is another common career path for master’s in nutrition as well as for master’s in nutrition and dietetics graduates. A nutritionist provides diet recommendations and guidance to patients with chronic diseases, people trying to lose weight and athletes.

Nutritionists often perform similar work as dietitians, but not all states require licensure and they are not registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).

It is important to note that some states do have restrictions on the type of nutrition counseling that individuals can perform without being licensed—in North Carolina, for example, a license is required for medical nutritional therapy but not for other nutritionist services such as individual nutrition assessment and counseling. State laws can also affect whether you can use specific titles without licensure, so it is important to research the specific laws for the state you want to work in, and plan your education and career path around those laws.

Individuals in the nutrition and dietetics fields must stay informed on food and nutrition trends. For example, some of the common trends in 2019 include personalization and overall health, like nutrigenomics (personalized nutrition based on your genetic makeup) and understanding the role of nutrition in reducing bone and muscle loss during aging.

Individuals with an advanced nutrition degree have more opportunities, and are better able to differentiate themselves in the field. One major benefit of being a nutritionist is the variety of jobs that are available. For example, nutritionists often work in the following places:

  • Community and public health
  • Businesses and non-profit organizations
  • Government and non-government organizations
  • Education and research
  • Hospitals and doctors’ offices
  • Schools
  • Wellness centers
  • Gyms
  • Private sector consultants

Nutritionist Career Paths

Holistic Nutritionist

Professionals who are trained in holistic nutrition approach health and healing on the whole person, focusing on whole foods found in nature. Holistic nutrition professionals advise groups, families and individuals on ways to improve diet, promote good health and prevent disease. Holistic nutritionists may also work with a licensed healthcare provider on previously diagnosed illnesses. Some of the benefits of a whole food-focused diet include increased energy, disease prevention and better mental clarity.

Because the holistic nutritionist industry is still emerging, most states don’t have regulations for these professionals to follow. However, holistic nutritionists can voluntarily choose to become board certified in holistic nutrition. The Holistic Nutrition Credentialing Board (HNCB) and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) set the credentialing standards, which are based on educational requirements, scope of practice and a code of ethics.

Corporate Nutritional Consultant

Corporate wellness programs are currently having a heyday in America. Rand Health released a report stating that over half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives. Studies show that corporate wellness programs lead to added employee happiness—and happiness leads to better productivity.

Some larger companies employ nutritional consultants on either a full-time or contract basis in order to lead workshops on health strategies, create meal options for employee cafeterias and consult one-on-one with employees about their personal nutrition needs.

Community Health Nutritionist

One subset of the nutrition industry that’s becoming increasingly important is community nutrition and health —sometimes referred to as public health.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “public health nutrition is the application of nutrition and public health principles to design programs, systems, policies and environments that aims to improve or maintain the optimal health of populations and targeted groups.”

Community health nutritionists assist underserved populations, provide health education and counseling, and help find resources to manage diseases. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 11% growth for health educators and community health professionals, which is much faster than average.

A study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health details how the economy could be better served through better funding of social programs in the United States. Researchers analyzed 25 years of California public health and medical spending data, and they found that a significant percentage of current spending provides no medical or health benefit. Furthermore, their findings suggested that spending more on population and community health initiatives could prevent as many as 10,500 premature deaths. These public health interventions, which include health education, early childhood development and public health programs, can generate financial returns for governments by drastically reducing costs related to poor community health.

Studies like these show the potential impact that community health nutritionists could have on a larger scale. However, these professionals also face a dual challenge: not only must they be adept researchers, they need strong communication skills to share their insights on complex issues and influence public health policies. Professionals who are interested in community nutrition and health careers can pursue nutrition master’s programs with courses in core nutrition concepts as well as community health policy, communication and research to help build the skills they need to be successful.

Adelphi University’s Online MS in Nutrition

The online MS in Nutrition prepares students to become nutritionists, and to work within a variety of sectors in the health and wellness field. Our courses are designed to give students the comprehensive skills they need to be effective nutrition leaders and communicators. The program is geared toward busy working professionals in health or health-related fields who want to expand their knowledge so that they can more effectively help others, expand their career opportunities or advance in their current role. A graduate degree from Adelphi is an excellent way to advance your career. The average base salary of Adelphi graduate students is 10% higher than the national average—with 94% of grads working or continuing their education within six months.

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