Nutritionists who are interested in making a difference throughout the population can do so by pursuing a career in public health. This deals with communities and larger groups of people at times as public health nutritionists can influence decisions and policies that impact lots of lives. That formula has the potential to blossom into a rewarding career where making a difference is an everyday possibility. Getting started can begin right now as there are a variety of work settings to choose from when it comes to being a public health nutritionist.
Public Health Nutritionist Education
The educational route leading to a career as a public health nutritionist begins with undergraduate studies. To get started, students should choose a major in Nutrition, Dietetics or any other related field such as Food Science. This undergraduate work will lead to a Bachelor’s Degree, which is the minimum level of education needed to enter into a career as a public health nutritionist.
The undergraduate studies focus on a variety of subjects that are designed to prepare students for a career as a public health nutritionist. Coursework involves Human Anatomy, Chemistry and Biology courses, as well as specific nutrition courses. As part of the undergraduate training, students are expected to participate in an internship, which is sometimes called a Dietetic Internship. This provides practical experience in an actual work environment setting.
There are a host of educational programs that have been approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). These schools have met certain standards put forth by ACEND and will prepare students to pass the Registered Dietitian examination that will is required after an undergraduate degree is attained. The following areas are covered during undergraduate work in a Nutrition program or one that is similar:
- Food Science Fundamentals
- Principles of Nutrition
- Nutrition Counseling
- Community Nutrition
- Food Safety Practices
A career as a public health nutritionist may involve overseeing large populations. Making decisions for larger groups of people requires a sufficient amount of educational training. For that reason, those looking to move up the ranks as a public health nutritionist may opt to earn a Master’s of Science Degree or pursue a Doctorate Degree. This type of advanced education is a strong credential when looking to attain a higher-ranking job as a public health nutritionist. Master’s programs typically take two years to complete while a doctorate degree spans roughly a three-year period.
There are colleges and universities throughout the country offering Nutrition programs at the undergraduate, graduate and doctorate levels.
Public Health Nutritionist License and Certification
Working as a public health nutritionist will require the proper licensing and certification. The licensing process is required in half of the states in the country. The remaining states do not require a license to begin working as a nutritionist. Licensing is controlled by a specific Board in each individual state. Some states will require a certification from the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB) as part of its licensing process. A Bachelor’s Degree in a nutrition-related field is a prerequisite for this certification.
It is important to distinguish the differences between nutrition licenses and certifications. However, certifications are often just as important when seeking out a career as a public health nutritionist. Becoming certified as a Registered Dietician is typically the next step beyond earning a Bachelor’s Degree. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics oversees this process by offering this certification through its Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). There are several certifications that are issued by this commission, which include the following:
- Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
- Registered Dietitian
- Dietetic Technician, Registered
- Nutrition and Dietetics Technician
There are other organizations and associations offering an array of certifications. However, public health nutritionists should consider attaining as many certifications from the CDR as possible as it will only elevate their status. Some organizations will require public health nutritionists to achieve education beyond that of Bachelor’s Degree, although there is no CDR Board Certification specific to public health. There are five specialty certifications and attaining any of those can only strengthen one’s potential for a successful future as a public health nutritionist.
Public Health Nutritionist Job Description and Skills
When it comes to the field of nutrition, a public health nutritionist is truly different from others who practice this line of work. Most nutritionists deal with individuals and much of their work is done on a one-on-one basis. A public health nutritionist operates differently and focuses on the health of the public. This could be a more concentrated group or an extremely large one that may exist at the federal level. Regardless of the size, public health nutritionists contribute to decisions that affect groups of people. The regular responsibilities may involve the following:
- Creation of specific meal plans
- Increase promotion of healthy eating
- Evaluate effectiveness of existing nutritional plans
- Group and the committee consultations
- Development of dietary policy
During these processes, public health nutritionists will consult with specialists, conduct research, analyze results and make recommendations. A public health nutritionist can also expect to give a multitude of presentations. Therefore, good public speaking skills should be acquired while training for such a role. Additionally, above-average communication skills are also heavily emphasized.
Public health nutritionists could find themselves in a position of authority or undertake a supervisory role. In an effort to be a successful public health nutritionist, there is a need to fully understand the scope of problems that exist in a certain community. Public health nutritionists can lean on their formal educational training to recommend the appropriate plans and policies.
Public Health nutritionists can work in a number of settings. That could include hospitals, schools, local government, as well as for organizations that provide some type of food service or distribution. It is a well-rounded profession that requires well-versed nutritionists to recommend and institute change.
Public health nutritionists are always learning. Over the course of a year, they are attending conferences, meetings and seminars to collect the most updated information. Some public health nutritionists may also assist in overseeing compliance protocol. There is an abundance of ways a public health nutritionist can use their position to improve the quality of nutrition among the public.
Public Health Nutritionist Salary
Salary amounts for all types of professions are estimated every year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There is a category for nutritionists and dieticians and the median salary is $60,370 per year. However, that category does not come with a breakdown of different specializations. It simply groups all nutritionists and dieticians together. There are public health nutritionist averages put together by other services. The website ZipRecruiter estimates the average annual salary of a public health nutritionist at $64,938. That amount is an average compiled from numerous online salary amounts.
Public health nutritionists have the potential to earn more than that average amount and that often depends on where they are employed. Some organizations monitor the public health of large populations and the additional responsibilities can translate into higher salary amounts for public health nutritionists. ZipRecruiter reported that the top percent of public health nutritionists earn $114,500 per year. Most of the top-earning nutritionists working in the public health sector have some kind of continuing education or advanced degree.
Public Health Nutritionist Job Outlook
The number of nutritionists is on the rise throughout the country. During the ten-year period that concludes in 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of nutritionists will expand by 15%. Public health is also an area that is expanding its number of employees every year. That also includes nutritionists as there are employed on a state, federal and local level. There are also smaller community organizations looking for this type of specialty.
There are nutritionist jobs available throughout the country and here is a look at the states with the highest concentrations of nutritionists in relation to the population:
- North Dakota