It seems like everywhere you look, people are trying to find new ways to eat and live a healthier life. As more science and research shows the connection between food and overall well-being, the study of nutrition has become increasingly relevant.
Earning an online nutrition degree is the perfect way to combine an interest in science and food, and how it affects the body. With an ever-growing array of diets, ways of eating, and continuously updated information on how nutrition can be used as a means to promote and increase health, it’s no wonder that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field will see a 16% increase in jobs for dietitians and nutritionists by 2024. This job growth is much faster than the average rate for other occupations, and with no signs of slowing down, this should encourage those who are considering entering the field!
Projected Employment Growth for Dietitians and Nutritionists, 2014-2024
|Employment, 2014||Employment, 2024|
|Dietitians and nutritionists||$66,700||$77,600|
Online nutritionist programs allow you to learn from seasoned professionals in the field from top-notch institutions, while still having the flexibility to take classes and coursework as your schedule allows. You can learn the fundamentals of health and wellness, maintain a job, and save money by getting an online degree in nutrition.
What Does a Nutritionist Do?
Nutritionists work with patients to find ways to use food to promote health and well-being. Nutritionists often evaluate an individual’s current diet and eating habits, and then come up with a plan to better meet their health needs. Nutritionists can work with those who wish to learn more and make healthy improvements in general, or with individuals who want to use nutrition to address specific needs, such as those with medical conditions or illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure. In addition to working directly with clients, nutritionists also take on the role of teacher, speaking to schools, organizations, and other groups about how to better incorporate healthy eating into their daily lives.
What’s the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian?
While both are considered healthcare professionals, there are a few differences between
nutritionists and dieticians. All dieticians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
Nutritionists typically work with patients to adjust eating behaviors, and teach individuals about nutrition and how food affects the body. Dieticians can manage meal plans and dive deeper into the symptoms of health issues, including eating disorders.
The biggest difference between the two is the amount of training and education that is required for each. More licensures and certifications are required to become a dietician. To become a
dietician, most students are required to participate in an internship or practicum program, after which they have to pass a certification exam by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. There are certifications for nutritionists, but depending on what type of nutritionist a person is, they are not always required.
What Jobs Are Available in the Nutrition Field?
There are a variety of jobs available for those who receive a nutrition degree online. If you are interested in sports, you could use the degree to become a sports nutrition specialist. Individuals in this profession often work with athletes at colleges and on sports teams, or at a fitness or activity center. These professionals work with athletes and those within fitness programs to come up with meal plans and eating habits that will best enhance the goals and capacity of the individual. Pediatric nutrition specialists work in settings with children, such as schools, to promote and plan healthy meals and snacks for students, and in medical environments, to work with young adults who need additional assistance on how to eat right. Those in the nutrition field could also become a home health care nutrition specialist, working with individuals where they live, often the elderly or those who are homebound.
What Is the Most Common Career for Someone Who Studies Nutrition? What Degree Do I Need for That Career?
A registered dietician is the most common career for someone who has studied nutrition. Dietitians assist people in overcoming dietary obstacles and health concerns. They might provide direct care to clients who need to manage medical issues, such as diabetes, obesity, and Crohn’s disease. Dietitians also design menus and dietary plans for hospitals, schools, extended care facilities, corporations, sports teams, and airlines. They may also work within an educational setting, or participate in research and clinical trials for new products.
Can I Get an Online Degree in Nutrition and Become a Registered Dietitian?
Yes! An online degree in nutrition is the perfect foundation to become a registered dietitian. This degree will prepare you for a profession as a health educator, and will dive deep into topics dealing with the human body, public health, and nutritional therapy. Once you have completed your online degree in nutrition, you can use those skills attained to continue your education and receive your certification as a registered dietitian.
Why Is Choosing an Accredited Nutrition Program Important?
Your education is a big and important investment, so it’s critical to pick a program that is accredited. An accredited institution has met the necessary requirements for quality and credibility, and meets the standards of the accrediting governing agency. Schools must show that they have a solid foundation and commitment to education, and that they have the resources to continue this work longterm. Accreditation requires frequent reviews and checks to ensure they maintain these standards. Additionally, graduating from an accredited college is a benefit when applying for jobs, as employers will recognize the legitimacy of the school.
Nutrition Specialities and Concentrations
There are nearly 70,000 individuals across the U.S. in the nutritionist profession. However, because the degree is so broad, there are a variety of concentrations within the profession. Individuals can work in areas of public health, sports nutrition, academia and teaching, or even clinical nutrition. Here are just a few specialties, and available careers in each, for those in the nutrition field.
- Maternal and Child Health
This concentration includes direct work with mothers and young adults to ensure proper nutrition for mothers-to-be, babies, and growing children. Careers include school nutrition specialist.
- Sports Dietetics
Those in this concentration often work for sports teams, colleges, or fitness clubs. Professionals work with athletes and clients to come up with a nutrition plan that promotes optimal performance. Careers include nutrition educator and nutrition coach.
Those in this area of nutrition work with elderly populations to ensure a patient’s diet is best meeting their health needs. Geriatric nutrition specialists often work in nursing homes or adult-care facilities.
- Physiology and Metabolism
Nutritionists in physiology and metabolism study how food impacts and affects the body. Many in this field work as researchers.
- Food Service Administration
This field of study includes the science behind food and its preparation. Professionals in this arena often work in research and quality testing.
- Food and Business Nutrition
This concentration focuses on the connection between the consumer and the food industry, and often includes techniques in marketing and sales to best promote certain products. Those in this field could work in public relations for a food company.
- Nutrition Education
Individuals in this concentration work to educate groups of individuals, often at a school, community organization, or within a professional setting, to give them the tips and tools they need to use nutrition to their healthy benefit. Careers in this arena include nutrition coaches at a hospital or school, or as an educator at a retirement facility.
- Public Health Nutrition and Policy
Nutritionists in this concentration focus on programs and policies for specific groups or communities, helping them to achieve optimal health and wellness. Many in this area work for government agencies or organizations, like the Center for Disease Control or a public health agency within a state.
Accreditation for Online Nutrition Programs
There are many online nutrition programs out there, which makes it even more important to pick one with proper accreditation. Accreditation is an official recognition that the school or institution is following required educational rules and guidelines, and upholds a quality learning environment for students. When becoming accredited, a school is evaluated on their support services for students, their financial stability, their overall curriculum, and a variety of other factors.
Future employers often will consider where a degree is obtained, including whether or not the school is accredited. Also, if you ever want to attend or transfer another school, accreditation ensures that your previously attained credits will be transferred.
Accreditation further legitimizes online programs, as they are held to the same standards as traditional institutions. Most importantly for those pursuing a nutritionist degree online, students can only receive further licensure if they have graduated from an accredited school. Because of the profession’s close proximity to working with the health of others, this additional validity of the school or institution you select is extremely beneficial.
Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics
ACEND, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics is the accrediting agency attached to programs for dietitians and nutritionists. When you are considering options for obtaining a nutrition degree online, this designation should be a high priority.
If a school has ACEND designation, it has been approved by the agency as one with quality and current nutrition and dietetics programs. ACEND is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and schools with its stamp of approval have met specific standards and guidelines in the fields of nutrition and dietetics.
Educational Paths to Becoming a Nutritionist
Depending on what’s right for your needs, there are many educational paths to becoming a nutritionist. If you have a strong interest in food and health, and love to help people, one of those paths may be for you. Selecting your specific concentration will dictate the emphasis of your studies, but all will likely include some form of science and biology instruction, food study, and the fundamentals of working with individuals who need nutrition assistance.
Curriculum for an Online Nutrition Programs
Coursework and program structure will vary based on which school and specific online nutrition degree you select. From focusing on diet of the individual to nutrition as a public health issue, these programs can differ, but still have the common nutrition thread. Here are some potential courses you will find:
- Human Physiology
This fundamental course will help you better understand how the human body works and how the organs and internal functions work together. This course is relevant to a career in physiology research.
- Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
This course allows you to learn how to work with individuals to adjust their lifestyle and eating habits to promote better health. Focus will include how these changes can prevent disease as well as lessen the affects of illness. Careers relevant to this course include hospital clinical nutritionist.
- Sports and Fitness Nutrition
This course will focus on how food and nutrition are significant players in the world of fitness and athletic capabilities. You will learn how specific nutritional plans promote physical activity, and how to maximize this information to assist individuals who want to increase their athletic capacity. Fitness club nutritionist would be a career relevant to this course.
- Community Nutrition
This class works through the policy and programmatic implications of nutrition, especially as they relate to a specific community or population. Federal, state, and local nutrition programs and initiatives are discussed. This course would be relevant to a public health specialist.
Like in any career, having an advanced degree is a wise professional investment. In fact, a recent study found that jobs requiring a master’s degree will jump by 21.7% by the year 2020. Earning an advanced degree demonstrates a dedication and commitment to your profession, traits employers value highly. Advanced degrees typically lead to better career opportunities and a higher salary.
Average Salary by Nutritionist Degree Level
|Degree Type||1-4 Years||5-9 Years|
- Bachelor of Science in Food Science, Dietetics or Nutrition (BS)
For the majority of career paths within the field of nutrition, a BS degree from an accredited undergraduate program, followed by certification requirements to become a registered dietitian is sufficient.
- Master of Science in Nutrition (MS)
This degree is a good option for people with a bachelor’s degree in another field who wish to work in the nutrition field. As with a BS, certification after earning the MS degree is needed to become a registered dietitian.
- Doctorate in Nutrition (PhD)
A doctorate in nutrition is the best degree option for someone looking to become a researcher or college-level professor.
Because the field of nutrition is such a wide and varied profession, there are many necessary skills you should cultivate to ensure success within your career. These will not only allow you to be a well-rounded professional, but will help you better assist your patients and clients.
- Diabetes Education
Diabetes education helps nutritionists better understand blood sugar, how patients can self-manage their symptoms, and how to plan meals to decrease symptoms.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 2%
- Sports Nutrition
Skills in sports nutrition will help you better understand the connection between food and fitness, including optimal nutrition for peak athletic performance. You will focus on this information during your nutrition coursework.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 3%
- Eating Disorders
Skills involving eating disorders help nutritionists come up with meal plans that best meet the needs of the affected patient, including any nutrients they might currently be lacking.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 3%
- Long-Term Care
These skills allow a professional to work within a long-term care facility to provide nutritional meal-planning for elderly populations. This includes consideration of a variety of health- and age-related food restrictions.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 1%
- Nutrition Support
Skills in nutrition support allow the professional to assist patients with very specific eating needs, such as enteral and parenteral nutrition needs.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 4%
- Health and Wellness
Health and wellness skills include creating a positive relationship with food and helping individuals with a specialized meal plan that best meets their health needs.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 2%
Counseling in the field of nutrition is a critical skill, as many individuals need additional support to deal with eating issues or medical problems as they pertain to food.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 13%
- Health Education
Education skills include working with groups of individuals to promote healthy eating habits, often in the workplace or a school setting.
Salary Growth Potential for Professionals with This Skill: 1%
Internships and clinical work are required for certification and is often combined with your coursework program in nutrition and dietetics. Internships are a critical way to get firsthand experience in the field before starting your career, and are the final step before becoming officially certified.
Dietetic internship programs require at least 1200 hours of supervised experience before taking the dietitian exam. Internships can focus on a specific concentration, including clinical nutrition, research, community nutrition, or geriatric nutrition.
Licensing and Certifications
- Certified Nutritional Specialist (CNS): Nutritionists with this certification hold an advanced degree and have at least 1,000 hours of a supervised internship. They have to pass the Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists exam. Jobs for this certification include work in medical nutrition therapy and research in chronic disease and other health issues.
- Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN): Those with this certification have a four-year bachelor’s degree, along with a 900-hour internship and a postgraduate intensive study of 56 hours. Individuals must pass the board exam through the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board.
- Registered Dietician (RD): This certification requires a four-year bachelor’s degree and between 900 and 1200 hours of an internship. Dietitians are food- and diet- focused, and work in professions that deal with meal planning and food standards.
Career Outlook for Nutritionists
The field of nutrition lends itself to a positive career outlook for years to come. With opportunities in a variety of different sectors, professionals in the nutritionist arena can work in schools, hospitals, corporate organizations, and even for themselves.
An increased emphasis on health and wellness also promotes the profession, which the BLS says will continue to grow through 2024. With a growth rate of 16%, higher than average compared to other careers, pursuing an online dietician degree or online nutrition degree is a smart choice when it comes to job placement after graduation.
Percentage of Dieticians and Nutritionists by Employer
|Hospitals: state, local, and private||30%|
|Nursing and residential care facilities||10%|
|Outpatient care centers||8%|
|Accommodation and food services||5%|
- NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program | Up to $20,000
Must be an undergraduate student with financial need in a health-related program.
- Linda K. Crandall Nutrition Scholarship | Up to $1,000
For students pursuing bachelor’s or master’s in nutrition.
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation | Up to $10,000
For students enrolled in a dietetics program at the graduate or internship level.
- George M. Burditt Scholarship | $1,500
Administered by the Association of Food and Drug Officials and given to undergraduates pursuing a degree in health sciences, with a minimum GPA of 3.0.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The Academy is the largest organization for food and nutrition professionals. They work to improve and advance the profession through research, education, and advocacy.
- Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND): ACEND is the accrediting agency for all dietician and nutrition educational programs. They are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- American Nutrition Association: The Association promotes health through the education of nutrition and wellness. They facilitate programs in schools, publish healthy cookbooks, and even host a speakers bureau.
- Clinical Nutrition Certification Board: The CNCB is a postgraduate program that offers training, exam, and certification opportunities for healthcare professionals.