Dietitian vs. Nutritionist

Distinguishing the Difference Between a Dietitian vs Nutritionist

Many people mistakenly use the terms “dietitian” and “nutritionist” interchangeably. Although these two professions are undoubtedly related, they maintain distinctive qualities. The biggest difference between dietitians and nutritionists lies in the legal restrictions that each title carries. Only nutritionists that become registered with Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) may legally declare themselves as dietitians or more precisely, registered dietitians (RDs).

Unlike dietitians, the nutritionist profession is much less protected under the law. In fact, nutritionists that do not intend to use the titles of “dietitian” or “registered dietitian” are often free from government regulation. Some states may require nutritionists to obtain an occupational license from a Board of Nutrition, while other states allow individuals to practice as nutritionists without any previous education, training or work experience.

Dietitians and Nutritionists Career Outlook

There is a valid reason why so many health care advocates are pursuing careers as dietitians and nutritionists: the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a positive occupational outlook for both professions. In 2012, the government reported the employment of 67,400 dietitians and nutritionists across the country. By 2022, this figure is expected to climb to 81,600. This addition of 14,200 jobs over a ten-year period equates to 21% employment growth change, which is a faster growth rate than the average for all other occupations.

Education Difference between Dietitians and Nutritionists

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According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, registered dietitians are required to complete a formal education program that results in at least a baccalaureate degree. This program must be approved by the Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) and include a practical component performed in a career-related site. In addition, the program must provide coursework that covers subjects in:

  • Foodservice systems management
  • Food and nutrition sciences
  • Computer science
  • Chemistry
  • Business
  • Microbiology
  • Sociology
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Economics

Although some nutritionists may not need any educational background to practice in their state, they will likely need to complete some formal coursework in nutrition-related subjects to qualify for employment. Nutritionists that seek the certified nutrition specialist (CNS) credential are required to complete a baccalaureate or advanced nutritionist degree in a nutrition discipline to qualify for the certification examination.

Credentials for Dietitians and Nutritionists

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers dieticians the opportunity to earn the registered dietitian (RD) credential. To become a RD, dietitians must: complete a baccalaureate degree from an ACEND-approved program; complete an ACEND-approved supervised clinical program; successfully pass the CDR registration examination; complete continuing professional education credits needed to maintain registration.

The Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (CBNS) offers nutritionists the opportunity to earn the certified nutrition specialist (CNS) credential. To become a CNS, nutritionists must: complete a master’s or doctoral degree in a field-related discipline; complete 1,000 hours of supervised practical experience; successfully pass the CBNS certification examination; complete continuing professional education needed to maintain certification.

Salary Expectations for Dietitians and Nutritionists

As of May 2021, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average salary of $65,620 for dietitians and nutritionists. The highest paying industries for dietitians and nutritionists during this time included:

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
  • Merchant wholesales of nondurable goods
  • Home healthcare services
  • Federal agencies (e.g., CDC, FDA, CMS)
  • Scientific research and development services

The top-paying states for dietitians and nutritionists included:

  • California
  • Washington DC
  • Hawaii
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island

*2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for dietitians and nutritionists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2022.

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