Dietitians & Nutritionists

Significant Points

  • Employment of dietitians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2008 due to increased emphasis on disease prevention by improved health habits.
  • Dietitians and nutritionists need at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs and supervise the preparation and serving of meals. They help prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits, scientifically evaluating clients’ diets, and suggesting diet modifications, such as less salt for those with high blood pressure or reduced fat and sugar intake for those who are overweight.

Dietitians run food service systems for institutions such as hospitals and schools, promote sound eating habits through education, and conduct research. Major areas of practice are clinical, community, management, research, business and industry, and consultant dietetics.

Clinical dietitians provide nutritional services for patients in institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. They assess patients’ nutritional needs, develop and implement nutrition programs, and evaluate and report the results. They also confer with doctors and other health care professionals in order to coordinate medical and nutritional needs. Some clinical dietitians specialize in the management of overweight patients, care of the critically ill, or of renal (kidney) and diabetic patients. In addition, clinical dietitians in nursing homes, small hospitals, or correctional facilities may also manage the food service department.

Community dietitians counsel individuals and groups on nutritional practices designed to prevent disease and promote good health. Working in places such as public health clinics, home health agencies, and health maintenance organizations, they evaluate individual needs, develop nutritional care plans, and instruct individuals and their families. Dietitians working in home health agencies provide instruction on grocery shopping and food preparation to the elderly, individuals with special needs, and children.

Increased interest in nutrition has led to opportunities in food manufacturing, advertising, and marketing, in which dietitians analyze foods, prepare literature for distribution, or report on issues such as the nutritional content of recipes, dietary fiber, or vitamin supplements.

Management dietitians oversee large-scale meal planning and preparation in health care facilities, company cafeterias, prisons, and schools. They hire, train, and direct other dietitians and food service workers; budget for and purchase food, equipment, and supplies; enforce sanitary and safety regulations; and prepare records and reports.

Consultant dietitians work under contract with health care facilities or in their own private practice. They perform nutrition screenings for their clients, and offer advice on diet-related concerns such as weight loss or cholesterol reduction. Some work for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets, and other nutrition-related businesses. They may consult with food service managers, providing expertise in sanitation, safety procedures, menu development, budgeting, and planning.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Most dietitians work a regular 40-hour week, although some work weekends. Many dietitians work part time.

Dietitians and nutritionists usually work in clean, well-lighted, and well-ventilated areas. However, some dietitians work in warm, congested kitchens. Many dietitians and nutritionists are on their feet for most of the workday.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Dietitians and nutritionists held about 54,000 jobs in 1998. Over half were in hospitals, nursing homes, or offices and clinics of physicians.

State and local governments provided about 1 job in 6—mostly in health departments and other public health related areas. Other jobs were in restaurants, social service agencies, residential care facilities, diet workshops, physical fitness facilities, school systems, colleges and universities, and the Federal Government—mostly in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some were employed by firms that provide food services on contract to such facilities as colleges and universities, airlines, correctional facilities, and company cafeterias.

Some dietitians were self-employed, working as consultants to facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, and seeing individual clients.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

High school students interested in becoming a dietitian or nutritionist should take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, health, and communications. Dietitians and nutritionists need at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area. College students in these majors take courses in foods, nutrition, institution management, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, and physiology. Other suggested courses include business, mathematics, statistics, computer science, psychology, sociology, and economics.

Twenty-seven of the 41 States with laws governing dietetics require licensure, 13 require certification, and 1 requires registration. The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) awards the Registered Dietitian credential to those who pass a certification exam after completing their academic coursework and supervised experience. Since practice requirements vary by State, interested candidates should determine the requirements of the State in which they want to work before sitting for any exam.

As of 1999, there were 235 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs approved by the ADA’s Commission on Accreditation/Approval for Dietetics Education (CAADE). Supervised practice experience can be acquired in two ways. There are 51 ADA-accredited coordinated programs combining academic and supervised practice experience in a 4- to5-year program. The second option requires completion of 900 hours of supervised practice experience, either in one of the 225 CAADE-accredited internships or in one of the 25 CAADE-approved preprofessional practice programs. Internships and preprofessional practice programs may be full-time programs lasting 9 to 12 months, or part-time programs lasting 2 years. Students interested in research, advanced clinical positions, or public health may need a graduate degree.

Experienced dietitians may advance to assistant, associate, or director of a dietetic department, or become self-employed. Some dietitians specialize in areas such as renal or pediatric dietetics. Others may leave the occupation to become sales representatives for equipment, pharmaceutical, or food manufacturers.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of dietitians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2008 due to increased emphasis on disease prevention by improved dietary habits. A growing and aging population will increase the demand for meals and nutritional counseling in nursing homes, schools, prisons, community health programs, and home health care agencies. Public interest in nutrition and the emphasis on health education and prudent lifestyles will also spur demand, especially in management. Besides employment growth, job openings will also result from the need to replace experienced workers who leave the occupation.

The number of dietitian positions in hospitals is expected to grow slowly as hospitals continue to contract out food service operations. On the other hand, employment is expected to grow fast in contract providers of food services, social services agencies, and offices and clinics of physicians.

Employment growth for dietitians and nutritionists may be somewhat constrained by some employers substituting other workers such as health educators, food service managers, and dietetic technicians. Growth also is constrained by limitations on insurance reimbursement for dietetic services.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median annual earnings of dietitians and nutritionists were $35,020 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,010 and $42,720 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,350 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $51,320 a year. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest number of dietitians and nutritionists in 1997 were as follows:

Hospitals $34,900
Local government, except education and hospitals 31,200
Nursing and personal care facilities 28,400

According to the American Dietetic Association, median annual income for registered dietitians in 1997 varied by practice area as follows: 

Consultation and business $46,000
Education and research 45,200
Food and nutrition management 44,900
Clinical nutrition 35,500
Community nutrition 34,900

Salaries also vary by years in practice, educational level, geographic region, and size of community.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Dietitians and nutritionists apply the principles of food and nutrition in a variety of situations. Jobs similar to management dietitians’ include home economists and food service managers. Nurses and health educators often provide services related to those of community dietitians.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For a list of academic programs, scholarships, and other information about dietetics, contact:

  • The American Dietetic Association, 216 West Jackson Blvd., Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60606-6995. Internet: http://www.eatright.org

An industry employing dietitians and nutritionists that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Health services

O*NET Codes: 32521 About the O*NET codes

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