Becoming a Licensed or Non-Licensed Nutritionist in Tennessee

In its report, the State ofTennessee Childhood Obesity, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation notes that 20.8 percent of Tennessee’s youth ages 10 to 17 are obese. This ranks Tennessee sixth among the 50 states and DC in terms of prevalence of childhood obesity. Among high school students, 20.9 percent are obese, giving Tennessee a ranking of fourth among all states and DC. 

Food insecurity fuels much of the obesity epidemic nationwide, and the picture is no different in Tennessee. Among Tennessee households with children, 24 percent experience food insecurity, which means that they have limited or uncertain access to nutritious foods necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle. Food insecurity has been associated with a higher rate of diabetes, decreased performance in school and cognitive development among children, and increased risk of hospitalization among children. 

Dietitians and nutritionists can help to educate Tennesseans about healthy foods and the importance of a nutritious diet. The Tennessee Board of Dietitians/Nutritionist Examiners licensed dietitians to work in Tennessee. Technically, in Tennessee licensed nutritionists are the same as licensed dietitians, as they are termed “dietitian/nutritionists” This means that becoming a licensed nutritionist in Tennessee entails following the steps to become a registered dietitian in Tennessee (Becoming a Registered Dietitian in Tennessee)

In Tennessee, a licensed nutritionist is really a licensed dietitian. You might wonder, does this indicate that non-licensed nutritionists cannot work in Tennessee? It depends what you mean by “practice.” Unlicensed nutritionists may practice non-medical nutrition and educate others about nutrition. In this article, we will examine the differences between licensed and non-licensed nutritionists in Tennessee and how you can train to be either one of them. 

A Licensed Nutritionist is a Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist in Tennessee

If you want to become a licensed Tennessee nutritionist, you must become a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. This involves meeting the mandates of the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR): attaining a degree (bachelor’s as of this writing, changing to a master’s by Jan. 1, 2024), logging 1000 hours of supervised experience, and passing the Registration Examination for Dietitians. 

Then you must apply online for dietitian/nutritionist licensure in Tennessee. You will be instructed on how to pay fees online and to submit any requested documentation.

For more information, see this article, which further delineates the process involved in becoming a registered, licensed dietitian in Tennessee.

Unlicensed Nutritionists in Tennessee

Even though Tennessee law requires a license to be a dietitian/nutritionist, there are some nutritional services that may be provided without a license. Let’s get out of the way what you cannot do without a license first:

  • You cannot advertise that you provide nutrition care services that are outlined in the Rules of the Board of Dietitian/Nutritionist Examiners
  • You cannot call yourself a nutritionist or dietitian or a dietitian/nutritionist, licensed dietitian, licensed nutritionist, or LDN, LN or LD

Non-medical nutrition is defined as nutrition that involves practice not constituting the practice of medicine, osteopathy, chiropractic, dentistry or podiatry. Unlicensed nutritionists in Tennessee may provide services and information related to non- medical nutrition under the following circumstances:

  • You are a nutritional educator employed by a federal, state, county or municipal agency; another political subdivision; a program helping to prevent disease and maintain good nutritional health; an elementary or secondary school; or an accredited degree-granting institution
  • You work for or run a health, fitness or weight loss program
  • You work for or run a health food store
  • You work for or run a business selling health products, dietary supplements, or nutritional literature or that provides nonmedical nutritional information
  • You conduct classes or provide information related to nonmedical nutrition
  • You are employed by a hospital or nursing home and subject to licensure by the Tennessee Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities
  • You are a dietitian serving in the Armed Forces, the Public Health service of the U.S., or Veterans Affairs, and the nonmedical nutrition services and information is related to that employment or service
  • You are licensed to practice in another health profession and practicing nutrition and dietetics is incidental to the practice of that profession

Education and Certification for Unlicensed Nutritionists in Tennessee

Since you have no regulations to go by and no mandates to fulfill as an unlicensed nutritionist, the sky is the limit when it comes to education and certification options. You should have some education in nutrition, but whether that is a certificate or degree is up to you. You might also seek professional certification, but again, this is dependent upon the job you will be seeking and is also optional. 

Some examples of nutrition education you might pursue in Tennessee include:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics – University of Tennessee Knoxville
  • Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics – University of Tennessee Knoxville
  • Associate of Science in Nutrition and Food Science – Nashville State Community College
  • Graduate Certificate in Sport Nutrition – East Tennessee State University

Potential professional certifications that unlicensed nutritionists in Tennessee might seek include:

  • Precision Nutrition – Level 1 Nutrition Coach Certificate, five-month online program, costs between $100 and $200
  • eCornell Plant Based Nutrition Certificate – 6-week online program $1260
  • Institute for Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Trainer Certificate – 6-month to one year online program, $7000
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Sports Nutrition Coach Certificate – 4 weeks to one year online program, $900

Employment Opportunities for Tennessee’s Unlicensed Nutritionists

There is a multitude of job opportunities for nutrition practitioners in Tennessee who are not licensed, as evidenced by a quick scan of the online classified ads (circa Oct. 2022):

  • Nutrition Educator – Sullivan County Regional Health Dept., Kingsport
    • Salary: $17.97 an hour
    • Need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences, community nutrition, clinical nutrition, home economics/nutrition, or public health nutrition
    • Coursework completed must include 9 credits of human nutrition, 4 credits of human anatomy/physiology, and 4 credits of education, psychology or counseling
  • Health Coach – Ballad Health, Johnson City
    • Salary: $58,500 to $74,100 a year
    • Need a bachelor’s degree, or an associate’s degree with three years of work experience 
  • Nutritionist – Shelby County Government, Memphis
    • Salary: $3624 a month
    • Need a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, health promotion, human performance or a related field
    • Need three years of experience in nutritional counseling
    • Need a valid Tennessee driver’s license
  • Nutrition Coordinator – TurningPoint, Chattanooga
    • Salary: $43,160 a year
    • Need a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or closely related field; if closely related field, need at least 12 credits in nutrition
    • Need a valid Tennessee driver’s license
  • Nutrition Advocate – Tennessee Justice Center, Nashville
    • Salary: $40,170 a year
    • Bachelor’s degree in nutrition or related area preferred
    • Knowledge about policy issues involving food and nutrition preferred
    • Two years of experience in working with non-profit organization preferred
    • Experience working with individuals and families preferred