If you want to work as a specialist in foods and nutrition who educates others about healthy nutrition practices and eating a balanced diet, you might want to consider becoming a nutrition educator. Nutrition educators may be generalized, focusing on nutrition as a whole across the lifespan; may focus on certain age groups, such as pediatrics or geriatrics; or may focus on a particular problem or condition, such as diabetes or eating disorders. Whatever their focus, nutrition educators strive to teach patients the best nutritional ways that they can improve their health and, ultimately, their lives.
What Do Nutrition Educators Do?
Based upon their job setting and target population, the duties and job responsibilities of a nutrition educator may vary from one professional to another. As a nutrition educator, you may find yourself working in medical facilities, outpatient clinics, long-term-care facilities, colleges and universities, public school systems, corporations, home care, and the community. Some of the job duties that you will likely encounter include, but are not limited to:
- Developing nutrition education services and programs
- Carrying out nutrition education services and programs
- Marketing nutrition education services and programs in the media and the community
- Researching and writing programs
- Researching and writing policies
- Studying and evaluating other nutritional education programs
- Conducting staff trainings
- Presenting educational nutrition programs to a variety of audiences
Nutrition educators should carry out their job responsibilities with compassion and understanding towards their patients, who might struggle with making dietary and behavior changes. They should include hands-on activities and demonstrations to keep patients engaged in the process. The best nutrition educators know how to use humor to get their points across, and are approachable when patients have questions. Nutrition educators must also keep abreast of the latest nutrition science research, and be constantly evaluating themselves and their own performance.
What Are Some Different Types of Nutrition Educators?
Nutrition educators may be generalized or may work with a specific audience in mind. There is a myriad of examples of nutrition educators. Some of the most commonly seen are:
- Diabetes care and education specialist
- Lactation educator
- Community nutrition educator
- Sports nutrition specialist
- Senior nutrition specialist
- Weight management specialist
- Youth nutrition specialist
- Health education specialist
- School nutrition specialist
What Education Do Nutrition Educators Need?
Nutrition educators typically need a minimum of a master’s degree in nutrition or a related field. Some nutrition educator positions might also require teaching certification, especially if they involve working in a K-12 school system.
Courses that you might come across in the curriculum of a master of nutrition education program include, but are not limited to:
- Lifecycle nutrition– This type of course would explore how nutrition affects us during the entire life span, from conception to geriatrics.
- Nutrition epidemiology and research methods – Courses such as this teach students to design, implement and analyze studies involving associations between nutrition and disease.
- Health communication – Ways of delivering health promotion messages to patients are discussed in this course, through social marketing and various methods of communication.
- Nutrition program design– This course would educate students in advanced principles of planning programs for nutrition education.
- Behavior changes in health promotion Students in this course would learn theories and application of assisting individuals and groups in changing lifestyle behaviors in order to improve their health.
- Health in the school environment – This course would examine how to promote healthy behaviors in schools from early childhood through higher education, based upon the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Adolescent and School Health program model.
- Strategies in weight control– Students in this course would learn how to foster healthier lifestyles in reversing the epidemic of obesity.
- Sports nutrition– This course gives students the chance to put theories into practice related to sports and fitness.
Do Nutrition Educators Need Professional Certification?
For some nutrition educator positions, professional certification might be necessary or desirable. A few examples include:
- Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) of the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC)- Requires a bachelor’s degree and passing an examination.
- Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) of the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC)- Requires five years of nutritionist experience and passing an examination
- Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) of the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES) – Requires you to be a credentialed health care professional, have 200 hours of diabetes experience in the past year, and pass an exam
- Certified Lactation Educator (CLC) of the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA)- Requires you to complete courses and pass an exam
- Certified Healthcare Simulation Educator (CHSE) of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare – requires you to have a bachelor’s degree and two years of healthcare simulation education experience and pass an exam
- Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian (RDN/RD) of the Commission on Dietetic Registration – requires a minimum of a master’s degree (as of Jan. 1, 2024), 1000 hours of supervised practice experience and passing an exam
- Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) of the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board – requires bachelor’s degree, post-graduate studies in clinical nutrition, passing exam
- Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) of the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS) – requires a master’s degree, completion of 1000 hours of supervised practice, passing exam
How Much Money Can I Expect to Earn as a Nutrition Educator?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the US Department of Labor classifies nutrition educators among health education specialists. According to them, as of May 2021 nutrition educators earn a mean annual wage of $64,930. Job opportunities for nutrition educators are projected to increase by an astounding 17 percent from 2020 to 2030. This projected growth is much faster than the average expected growth for all other occupations.
States that pay the highest wages to nutrition educators as of May 2021 are:
- District of Columbia $94,610
- Maryland $90,140
- Georgia $88,740
- Connecticut $79,340
- Rhode Island $73,890