As Americans face a growing obesity crisis and ever-growing awareness about how what we eat affects our health, medical professionals in the field of dietetics are key members of that front line. Behind every public program like healthier school lunch initiatives or campaigns to fight Type 2 diabetes, dietitians and nutritionists are the ones using science to set healthy food guidelines and diet plans.
Dietitians and nutritionists work in a variety of settings, from healthcare settings (hospitals and clinics) to government (public health agencies) to the private sector (food manufacturing and distribution companies). They may work directly with patients to create and maintain diet plans to lose weight or improve health, but they might also work on larger-scale public health programs to encourage healthy eating to broader populations. You can also find dietitians working on nutrition guidelines and food safety in the government or in private companies. Their tasks often include:
- Designing diets that target specific conditions, like obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure
- Helping patients maintain diets for health or weight loss, and ensuring that patients are dieting safely
- Developing nutrition programs for an entire facility
- Improving accuracy in food labels and advertising
- Working with agencies and manufacturers to improve food safety
- Researching how food and nutrition interact with the body and various conditions
- Educating the public (broadly or in specific targeted populations) on nutrition, food safety, and healthy lifestyle practices
Dietitians and nutritionists typically work a standard full-time work week in an office or clinic setting. For more on dietetics and what it’s like to be a dietitian or nutritionist, check out these videos:
- A Day in the Life: Dietitian
- How to Become a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist
- Ask a Nutritionist with Shira Lenchewski
- Is Being a Nutritionist Right for You?
Most dietitians and nutritionists have a bachelor’s degree, and have completed a residency, internship, or other form of supervised training. Most states require a license for dietitians and nutritionists, so be sure to check your own state’s requirements if you’d like to start down this career path.
The dietetics field calls for a number of special skills and knowledge bases, including:
- Attention to detail
- Math and science (particularly biology, food science, and biochemistry)
- Critical thinking
- Patient evaluation
- Anatomy and physiology
- Disease management
- Public health implementation
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for dietitians/nutritionists is $56,950, or $27.38 per hour. In addition, the field offers a lot of fulfillment for its members. According to a survey conducted by PayScale, the average dietitian is “extremely satisfied” in his or her career.
As mentioned before, the renewed focus on food and nutrition, both on a national and personal health level, means that this is a gangbusters-level field for growth. Openings in dietetics are expected to grow at least 16% by 2014, which is significantly faster than average.
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