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The jobs of nutritionists and dietitians can be very similar: They both assess patient health and wellbeing, plan menus, educate the public on nutrition issues, and conduct research on the relationship between health and fitness.
Despite these similarities, however, nutritionists and dietitians have different educational backgrounds, training, and legal requirements.
All dietitians are also nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. The main difference between these two titles is legality.
“Dietitians receive their education from an accredited program, so they’re legally protected to be a nutrition practitioner,” says Kayla Halvey, a registered dietitian at Kayla Bud Nutrition in New York City.
A legally protected title can only be used by a person who meets specific requirements, including education, as set by a state, a group such as a professional association, or an accrediting agency.
Dietitians have strict educational and certification requirements to meet before they can use that title. In addition to attending an accredited program, most states require dietitians to be licensed or to have professional certification, or both.
Dietitians have strict educational and certification requirements to meet before they can use that title.
In contrast, only about half of states require such credentials for nutritionists. Even so, many professional roles for nutritionists call for at least a bachelor’s degree, and the same certification is available for nutritionists and dietitians alike.
Job Duties and Responsibilities
Nutritionists and dietitians have similar job descriptions and responsibilities. Both can prepare meal plans, provide nutrition education, and research food’s impact on the body, to name a few examples. They can also work alongside doctors to treat patients with acute or chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure.
The job descriptions for either role can vary based on workplace, but both nutritionists and dietitians can work in hospitals, private practices, sports clinics, schools, and research centers. Both can:
Dietitians and nutritionists can take similar coursework, but dietitians must complete an accredited bachelor’s degree program and earn Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN) certification from the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
While requirements to be a nutritionist can be looser than for a dietitian, the reality is that you must have at least a bachelor’s degree to work as a nutritionist in a professional setting.
In contrast, if you plan to become a nutritionist but don’t intend to earn a RD certification, you can enroll in any educational program. While this is true, the reality is that a bachelor’s degree is usually considered an important degree for a nutritionist, and many employers will look for job candidates with this education—plus certification.
Licensing and Certifications
Licensing and certification requirements for nutritionists and dietitians vary from state to state. State requirements for nutritionists are more varied and a bit looser than state requirements for dietitians.
A professional certification demonstrates your expertise and knowledge in your field. These are not certificate programs. A certificate indicates that you have taken a training program to learn a skill. Certification shows your mastery extends beyond your education and that you’ve passed a qualifying exam.
Here are the top certifications for dietitians and nutritionists.
Although they are different titles, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts dietitians and nutritionists in the same category and says they earn a median annual salary of $61,650. But there is a range in salaries, with the bottom 10% around $42,530 and the top 10% around $93,000, according to the BLS.
Median Salary: $61,650
Projected job growth: 10.7%
10th Percentile: $42,530
25th Percentile: $49,490
75th Percentile: $77,430
90th Percentile: $93,640
Projected job growth: 10.7%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$77,810||$47,150||$101,220|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Nutritionist and dietitian roles are expected to grow 11% from 2020 to 2030, according to the BLS. There are several reasons for this growth:
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