How Is the Job Outlook for Nutritionists?

With the large societal emphasis on nutrition and healthy eating today, many individuals interested in working in the wellness industry wonder about the job outlook for nutritionists. Nutritionists are trained and educated professionals who use their knowledge of food and nutrition to promote healthy eating habits. If you have more than a passing interest about pursuing a career in nutrition, then you’ll be happy to know that the job outlook for nutritionists is very good, and nutritionists continue to be in demand in various settings. In this article, you’ll learn more about nutritionists, including what they do, where they work, how to become one, and what to expect in terms of career and job outlook.

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What Does a Nutritionist Do?

Nutritionists are professionals who specialize in nutrition, food, and healthy eating. They educate clients on nutrition, nutritional requirements and how to improve eating habits, whether it’s to help with a chronic health condition or to lose weight. Some nutritionists and dietitians also work with low-income individuals who need assistance in learning how to eat well with limited funds. Nutritionists also create and oversee nutrition programs to use in medical facilities and schools.

Nutritionists and dietitians play an important role in helping their clients manage health issues, control diseases, and maintain an ideal weight. Some nutritionists perform research to help them determine where their services are best utilized and to uncover new knowledge to support the industry’s goals. Nutritionists also speak to large groups of people in their communities to promote healthier eating, educate individuals on how to maintain good eating habits, and provide resources for help with nutritional obstacles and problems.

Types of Nutritionists

Clearly, nutritionists have many important roles and functions. Some nutritionists specialize in a specific area of the industry. For example, clinical nutritionists are trained to provide medical nutrition therapy. These types of nutritionists are akin to doctors and nurses as they help ailing individuals manage certain health conditions like diseases and disorders. Instead of prescribing medications like most healthcare professionals, though, clinical nutritionists and dieticians prescribe a certain diet as well as advise patients on their eating habits. They may also counsel their patients on necessary lifestyle changes to improve their conditions such as smoking or alcohol cessation, increased exercise, and stress management. Clinical nutritionists often work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and outpatient care centers.

Community nutritionists have responsibilities that vary significantly from that of clinical nutritionists. These particular types of nutritionists focus more on the educational aspect of the nutrition and wellness industry, planning outreach programs for special populations such as pregnant women, infants, and adolescents. They may work closely with government agencies to plan state or county-wide programs and initiatives to help the community meet certain health and nutrition goals. Community nutritionists usually work in settings such as government offices, nonprofit agencies, and public health clinics, for example.

How to Become a Nutritionist

If you’re serious about becoming a nutritionist, then you’re probably also curious about the education and training requirements associated with this specific career path. Becoming a nutritionist generally requires a bachelor’s degree in the academic discipline of nutrition or dietetics, although students may also major in public health nutrition, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, or a similar field. Students enrolled in these types of degree programs are typically required to complete general education classes as well as major-specific courses in nutrition, biology, food service systems management, chemistry, and psychology, for example.

 In addition to coursework, aspiring nutritionists must complete internships, which may consist of several hundreds of hours of training under the supervision of a licensed nutritionist. Some colleges require the student to complete the internship after graduation, while others offer students the opportunity to complete internships as part of their degree plan.

Licensures and Certifications for Nutritionists

Furthermore, nutritionists are required to be licensed in many states, and in states where licensure is not required, these allied health professionals may be required to be certified or registered. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Commission on Dietetic Registration offers the Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN) credential. Currently, the education requirements to become a registered nutritionist include a bachelor’s degree, but over the coming years, these requirements will become more stringent. By 2024, all applicants who apply for the RDN credential will be required to have a minimum of a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics or a closely related field. In addition to educational requirements, RDN candidates must have completed at least 1,200 hours of practical experience and pass the mandated certification exam. To maintain the RDN certification, the nutritionist must also complete continuing education classes every five years.

Some nutritionists who complete advanced degrees in nutrition choose to pursue the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential from the American Nutrition Association. In addition to a master’s degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field, this specialized certification requires candidates to pass a rigorous examination and submit proof of a supervised field experience.

Job Outlook for Nutritionists

In today’s economy, it’s important for job-seekers to look for occupational sectors that are not only hiring but paying well, too. Fortunately for individuals interested in working in the field of nutrition and dietetics, this is one of those sectors boasting both high demand and high wages.

Both the rising rate of obesity and the importance of improved nutrition to reduce health problems contribute to job growth and demand for qualified nutritionists. A large sector of the U.S. population is approaching their golden years, meaning health issues requiring nutritional prevention and therapy will become more prevalent. Plus, the population at large is becoming more aware of wellness principles and the need for a balanced diet. Thus, it should come as no surprise that U.S. News & World Report currently ranks the role of nutritionist/dietician No. 24 among Best Health Care Jobs and No. 78 among the 100 Best Jobs nationwide.

Now, for the numbers: Nutritionists are expected to see job growth of 11 percent during the decade of 2020 and 2030 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s faster than the average occupation. This projected expansion will add roughly 7,800 new jobs for trained nutritionists, bringing the total number of employment opportunities in this particular profession to over 80,000 openings nationwide.

Who Hires Nutritionists?

As with any occupation, if you’re thinking about pursuing a career as a nutritionist or dietician, you’ll want to look into what types of employers are hiring and what your work environment will be like. Hospitals are where the largest percentage of nutritionists are employed. As of 2020, about 22,630 nutritionists were employed in general medical and surgical hospitals, while approximately 7,300 nutritionists were employed in outpatient care centers according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other common workplaces where you will find nutritionists and dieticians include:

  • Nursing Care Facilities
  • Local Government
  • Special Food Services
  • Specialty Hospitals
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners

How Much Do Nutritionists Earn?

As of May 2020, nutritionists earned an annual average wage of $63,090 with individual wages ranging from $39,840 to over $90,000. Wages can be affected by various factors including employer, education and training, location, and work experience. Nutritionists who work in outpatient care centers appear to make significantly more money per year than those who are employed in other settings such as government agencies, hospitals, and nursing homes. The states where the highest wages are earned by nutritionists on average are as follows:

  • California: $81,070
  • Alaska: $78,350
  • Washington, D.C.: $73,150
  • Hawaii: $72,810
  • New Jersey: $72,750

Job Outlook for Similar Occupations

When planning for the future, it’s sometimes helpful to research other related occupations before deciding upon a career path. After all, your occupational choice can impact nearly every other aspect of your life in the decades to come, so it’s a big decision. To help in this pursuit, our editors have identified three other jobs related to the position of a dietician/nutritionist. We’ll discuss these below, exploring details like job growth projections and salary expectations, for instance.

Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

Some individuals with an interest in the nutrition and dietetics industry may also be interested in positions as health education specialists or community health workers. Job prospects for these types of allied health professionals are even more promising than those for nutritionists, perhaps because of the increased focus on health and wellness in a society that has been recently ravaged by a pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for trained health education specialists and community health workers are currently growing faster than average and are expected to grow by 17% over the next decade. This expansion will result in over 21,000 new jobs in the industry.

While the demand for health education specialists and community health workers is higher than that of nutritionists, the pay is less enticing. In 2020, the BLS reports the median annual wage for community health workers as $42,000 while health education specialists made $56,500 on average that same year. Though respectable, neither of these salaries can compete with what nutritionists can expect to bring home (i.e., just over $63,000 annually).

Registered Nurses (RNs)

Clinical nutritionists often work in hospitals and other healthcare settings right alongside registered nurses. It’s not so farfetched then to think that prospective nutritionists may also be considering a career as an RN. Although jobs for these types of healthcare professions are growing, this growth is not occurring as rapidly as the growth for trained nutritionists and dieticians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 9% increase in the demand for registered nurses in the decade between 2020 and 2030. That’s 2% less than the growth rate for nutritionists and dieticians over the same period.  Even so, it’s important to keep in mind that the nursing occupation is much larger. While the growth in the nutrition and wellness field will create nearly 8,000 new jobs, more than 276,000 new jobs will be available for RNs. This could make getting a job as a registered nurse much easier than securing a position as a nutritionist.

Pay for registered nurses is higher on average than that of nutritionists as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these healthcare professionals make over $75,000 per year on average compared to the median annual wage of just over $63,000 for nutritionists and dieticians. That’s a difference of over $12,000 annually.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Students planning on working as community nutritionists may also show an interest in the occupation of a rehabilitation counselor. Like community nutritionists, these types of allied health professionals also work in community and social service, though they play vastly different roles. Rehabilitation counselors work with disabled individuals, helping them overcome physical, mental, or emotional challenges so they can successfully function in society. The projected growth rate for rehabilitation counselors is lower than that of nutritionists and dieticians, but not by much. While jobs for nutritionists are projected to increase by 11% between 2020 and 2030, opportunities for rehabilitation counselors are expected to grow by 10%. Since the field is larger, however, there will actually be more openings for these types of professionals compared to nutritionists and dieticians. By the end of the decade, we can expect to see more than 10,000 new jobs for rehabilitation counselors compared to less than $8,000 openings for nutritionists.

A potential deterrent for individuals looking to pursue a position as a rehabilitation counselor as opposed to a nutritionist is the pay. While nutritionists and dieticians make over $63,000 per year on average, rehabilitation counselors make only a fraction of that figure—$37,530 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Counselors who work for the government, including in hospitals and schools, make a more comparable wage (i.e., $53,210).

Working as a nutritionist can be very rewarding because it gives the individual the opportunity to educate others on healthier eating, which can be beneficial to those with weight issues and health concerns due to poor nutrition. It is also a career that offers a good job outlook and earning potential, which can be a driving force in choosing this career. Still, the road to becoming a nutritionist requires a fairly large commitment of time and effort, and the requirements are only getting more strenuous. If you’re prepared for the hard work ahead of you, you can look forward to a satisfying and financially rewarding career in healthcare as a nutritionist.

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Maxim Sorokopud
Author

Melissa Anderson
Expert

Julie McCaulley
Editor-in-Chief