State Requirements for Nutrition and Dietitian Fields

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What is a Nutritionist?

A nutritionist is not a dietitian. Today’s terminology may be a bit confusing, but Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), which are credentialed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are not nutritionists. All dietitians are nutritionists, but all nutritionists are not dietitians. This article will further elaborate upon what makes a nutritionist a nutritionist.

Nutritionist Job Description

Nutritionists may be certified by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists or the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board. Training requirements for nutritionists vary from one state to the next, and most states do not require nutritionists to be licensed nor certified. A nutritionist generally provides advice to clients on how to eat healthily, lose weight, and reduce fatigue and tiredness through changing what they eat.

Job Duties of a Nutritionist

Nutritionists may treat a variety of health conditions, depending upon the laws of their state. Because nutritionists need not have certification or licensure, some states will not allow them to perform nutritional counseling or to diagnose and treat certain health conditions. Other states will allow nutritionists to perform nutrition counseling, but will not allow them to bill health insurance for their services.

States that do require certifications or licensure for nutritionists include: Maryland, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming. In states in which nutritionists are unregulated, anyone with an interest in nutrition may call themselves a nutritionist and perform whatever duties they desire.

If a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) (certified by the Board for Certification for Nutrition Specialists) has state licensure, they are legally authorized to treat any health conditions an RD can treat. Some of their duties include:

  • Providing nutrition therapy to manage illnesses/health conditions
  • Overseeing community education programs
  • Giving nutrition advice and counseling to clients

Others Who Work Closely with a Nutritionist

Nutritionists may work closely with healthcare practitioners, registered dietitians, health coaches, and fitness instructors.

Skills Necessary for Nutritionists

A nutritionist should possess the following skills:

  • Research
  • Investigation
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication (both orally and in writing)
  • Listening
  • Educating the public, clients and others
  • Working well individually and as part of a team
  • Ability to explain complex ideas simply
  • Good understanding of science
  • Good motivational skills

Work Hours for Nutritionists

Nutritionists usually work Monday through Friday, daytime hours, on schedules of 40 hours per week. They may work evenings and weekends as required.

Work Settings for Nutritionists

Nutritionists may be employed within a wide variety of settings. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Clinical settings (hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, long term care facilities)
  • Government health departments at the local and state levels
  • School districts
  • Private facilities (such as private practice or health clinics)
  • Research settings
  • Sports organizations

Average Salary for Nutritionists

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nutritionists working in the U.S. earn an annual mean wage of $61,270 (as of May 2019).

Education, Experience, Certification and Licensure for Nutritionists

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American University’s online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond.

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Nutritionists may be certified, or licensed, or not. Most states don’t require certification or licensure for nutritionists.  As mentioned above, states that do require certifications or licensure for nutritionists include: Maryland, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming. In these states, one must be a RD (RDN), CNS, or other licensed advanced nutritionist in order to practice. In other states, nutritionists need not be licensed/certified.
There are many professional organizations that certify nutritionists. The two major organizations, that are held in the highest regards by professional nutritionists, are:

  • Clinical Nutrition Certification Board – offers the Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) credential, which requires:
    • A bachelor’s degree or higher in nutrition or an advanced degree in another licensed healthcare field
    • Completing a certain amount of coursework depending upon one’s degree
    • Passing an examination
    • Recertifying through ongoing training every two years
  • Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists –offers the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential, which requires:
    • A graduate degree in nutrition/related field
    • 1000 hours of supervised practice
    • Passing an examination
    • Recertifying through continuing education every five years

Areas in Which Nutritionists May Specialize

Nutritionists may focus on different areas, including, but not limited to:

  • Sports nutrition
  • Digestive disorders
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist through the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists/American Nutrition Association – this certifies that the nutritionist has training and experience in how ketosis can be used to treat certain conditions, like diabetes, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. It requires:
    • Must be an RD, CNS or healthcare practitioner who practices nutrition in their scope of practice
    • Must complete six modules of the ANA’s ketogenic training course
    • Must pass a certification exam
    • Must complete 30 hours of continuing education every five years to maintain certification
  • Certified Nutritional Genomics Specialist through the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists/American Nutrition Association- this certifies that the nutritionist has training in nutritional genomics. It requires:
    • Must be an RD, CNS or healthcare practitioner who practices nutrition in their scope of practice
    • Must complete five modules of the ANA’s nutritional genomics training course
    • Must complete two case studies
    • Must pass a certification exam
    • Must meet recertification requirements

Job Outlook for Nutritionists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes nutritionists with dietitians in its labor statistics. It predicts that there will be many jobs for nutritionists over the next ten years. In fact, from 2019 to 2029, job opportunities for nutritionists are projected to increase by eight percent, a rate which is faster than the average project increase for all other occupations.  People are beginning to understand the importance of nutrition in the prevention and treatment of certain health conditions and diseases. As this understanding continues to grow, jobs for nutritionists should continue to abound in the United States.

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