Are you passionate about good food and healthy living? Then it's time to learn more about the work of nutritionists. These professionals are on the front lines of the fight against obesity and chronic disease. They work with clients, either individually or in groups, to promote smart food choices, and you will often find them performing the following duties:
Assessing the diet and health needs of a client or patient.
Educating clients on healthy eating habits and other nutrition issues.
Developing meal plans that meet an individual's nutrition goals.
Documenting patient progress to goals.
Following the latest research in the field of nutrition.
Some nutritionists may be part of a larger medical team working with a particular patient. Others may be self-employed and provide consultation services to individuals who are seeking to improve their overall health. Still others may be part of public health campaigns to promote good nutrition and encourage communities to adopt healthier habits.
Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about this in-demand and often-technical occupation.
How Much do Nutritionists Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual nutritionist salary in 2014 was $57,440 nationwide. The top 10 percent of workers in the field earned $79,840 or more, and the bottom 10 percent of earners took home up to $35,040 on average.
As with any career, nutritionist salary expectations vary from employer to employer. Here's a list of the top-paying industries in the U.S. for nutritionists in 2014, according to the BLS:
- Educational support services: $82,280
- Federal executive branch: $69,450
- Home health care services: $66,650
- Insurance carriers: $65,680
- Outpatient care centers: $61,850
The area of the country where you find employment can also have a powerful effect on salary potential. These five states had the highest annual average salaries for nutritionists in the U.S. in 2014, according to the BLS:
- California: $72,010
- Maryland: $66,340
- Nevada: $65,600
- Connecticut: $64,970
- New Jersey: $64,910
However, an above-average salary may not feel like much if the cost of living in a particular area is just as high. Working in a city with a relatively low cost of living can help increase the value of every dollar of your salary. Here are a few 2014 nutritionist salary averages for metro areas whose states fared well on the Cost of Living Index (COLI) released by the Center for Community and Economic Research for the first quarter of 2015:
- Biloxi, Mississippi: $61,450 mean annual salary; state ranked 1st in affordability
- Lansing, Michigan: $61,570 mean annual salary; state ranked 8th in affordability
- Clarke County, Georgia: $62,050 mean annual salary; state ranked 10th in affordability
Occupational Requirements and Job Types
All nutritionists and dietitians need at least a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, or food service systems management. Additionally, some states require aspiring nutritionists and dietitians to pass a licensing exam before they can legally practice.
In states where licensure is not required, it is still recommended, as many employers prefer hiring nutritionists with national credentials. For more information on the topic, check out this infographic on how to become a nutritionist or contact schools in your area to find out about their programs and requirements.
Nutrition professionals can be classified into several different job types. Here are some of the most common categories for those working in the field.
- Clinical dietitians gather information on patients' dietary restrictions to plan meal programs at long-term care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.
- Community nutritionists counsel individuals or groups about ways to make healthy food choices when grocery shopping and dining out.
- Management dietitians oversee menus and preparation standards in cafeterias, prisons, schools and other institutions with high-volume food production.
- Nutritional consultants work on contract or in private practice to target a patient's specific wellness goals, such as weight loss or lowering cholesterol.
The difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is based on their licensing — specifically, a nationally recognized credential as a registered dietitian — but both generally start with a degree in nutrition, and the general focus of the two jobs can be quite similar.