Nutritionists are individuals who have studied the science of nutrition. Many nutritionists have a master's or doctoral degree in nutrition science and conduct research on food safety, eating habits, or the impact of food and nutrition on health. Some nutritionists are registered dietitians (RDs). An RD is a health professional who is trained to provide reliable nutrition advice and care in a variety of settings. In many states, nutritionists must be licensed or certified to practice in clinical and community settings. These licensed or certified nutritionists must meet the same requirements as an RD. Otherwise, many people with little or no education in nutrition science may be called nutritionists or nutrition counselors.
States regulate nutrition and dietetic professionals by one or more of the following methods:
- Licensing. Licensing statutes explicitly define the scope of practice, and it is illegal to practice without first obtaining a license from the state.
There is evidence that a healthy diet can improve longevity and prevent disease. Nutritionists research the diet's impact on overall health and advise patients, communities, hospitals, and companies about the science and methods of nutrition.
[Photograph by Nathan Benn. Corbis. Reproduced by permission.]
- Statutory certification. Certification statutes limit the use of particular titles to persons meeting predetermined requirements. However, persons who are not certified may still practice the occupation or profession as long as they do not use the particular titles.
- Registration. This is the least restrictive form of state regulation. As with certification, unregistered persons may be permitted to practice the profession if they do not use the state-recognized title. Typically, exams are not given and enforcement of the registration requirement is minimal.
Many state licensure boards use the qualifications established by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Commission on Dietetic Registration to establish who may practice in the discipline. These standards require that an individual:
- Complete a bachelors degree and course work approved by the ADA Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education
- Complete accredited and supervised practice components of at least 900 hours in clinical, community, and food-service settings
- Pass a national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
- Complete continuing professional education requirements to maintain licensure or registration.
American Dietetic Association. "Becoming a Registered Dietitian." Available from <http://www.eatright.org/becomeanrd.html>
American Dietetic Association. "State Professional Regulation." Available from <http://www.eatright.org/gov/st042500.html>