How to become a nutritionist

According to a 2013 poll by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 27.1 percent of Americans are classified as obese. The Centers for Disease Control place the number even higher: 34.9 percent, as of 2012. Another 35.7 percent were considered overweight. While nutritionists and dietitians cannot wave a magic wand to solve this problem, they can help people learn how to eat better and change unhealthy habits, such as not exercising enough. Because of a growing interest in food's role in health and wellness, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that through 2022, nutritionists and dietitians will see 21 percent growth in their job opportunities nationwide, which is well above the average for all careers combined. State labor data suggest that the growth will be particularly strong in certain states, including Utah, Colorado and Idaho.

What is the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian?

It can be hard to understand the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian. An expert adviser when it comes to food and nutrition, a registered dietitian (RD) is a nationally recognized profession certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). A nutritionist is not nationally recognized, but individual states sometimes require nutritionists to be licensed.

However, in order to communicate a broader concept of wellness, the AND has introduced the registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) designation. This aims to help direct the public to a certified registered dietitian for all their health and wellness needs.

What do nutritionists and registered dietitians do?

Although the difference in certification between these jobs is distinct, the responsibilities of the two positions have some overlap. Some of the daily activities of each job include:

  • Answering nutritional questions and assessing health needs
  • Developing individualized meal plans
  • Monitoring the progress of clients and adjusting meal plans as needed
  • Advocating the importance of proper nutrition and exercise to individuals and communities
  • Studying the latest information on proper eating habits, disease prevention and diagnosis

What are the different educational requirements?

If you are interested in working as an RD or an RDN, the following are some of the steps you may have to take in order to qualify for the position:

  • Earn a bachelor's degree in clinical nutrition, food service systems management, dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related field
  • Pass a competency exam
  • Complete a Dietetic Internship Program
  • Earn the RD or RDN credential
  • Earn a state license

How much money can dietitians and nutritionists make?

According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for nutritionists and registered dietitians in the U.S. was $56,300 in 2013. At the same time, the top five states for average annual salaries for these professions:

  • California: $71,870
  • Nevada: $70,580
  • Hawaii: $64,150
  • Maryland: $64,120
  • Connecticut: $63,820

Please consult the visual below to learn more about what nutritionists and registered dietitians do, where they work, and how they help everyday people live healthier lives. The infographic also contains a detailed list of sources.


Adult Obesity Facts, Centers for Disease Control,

Long Term Occupational Projections for Dietitians and Nutritionists, Projections Central,

"U.S. Obesity Rate Ticks Up to 27.1% in 2013," Rebecca Riffkin, Gallup, Feb. 27, 2014,

Occupational Employment and Wages: Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Dietitians and Nutritionists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

How to Become a Nutritionist
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