Nutrition Science Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in nutrition science? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if a career in nutrition science is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Nutrition Science

Nutrition science is the study of food and the way it affects the human body. The chart below will help you examine several careers in this field, including dietitian, food scientist and health educator.

Dietitian Food Scientist Health Educator
Career Overview Dietitians make nutritional assessments and recommendations based on the individual needs of their clients. Food scientists make changes and improvements to the food supply using scientific knowledge. Health educators teach the public about fitness, nutrition and health topics to promote wellness.
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Program Length Four years, full-time Four years, full-time Four years, full-time
Additional/Other Training 1,200-hour internship N/A N/A
Certification and Licensing Varying levels of licensure, certification or registration are required in 47 states. Optional certification is offered by professional organizations, including the Institute of Food Technologists. Some employers require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) designation from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.
Experience Requirement Entry level Entry level Entry level
Job Outlook for 2014-2024 Much faster-than-average growth (16%)*Fast-as-average growth (5%)*Faster-than-average growth (12%)*
Mean Salary (2014) Roughly $57,440*Roughly $66,870*Roughly $55,260*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Dietitians, or nutritionists, provide information about healthy eating and nutrition to enhance the health of their clients. They may design nutrition plans, counsel individuals about their diets and provide the public with information about healthy eating habits. As a dietitian, you may help individuals with specific issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes. You may work in a hospital or clinic, health-related agency, kitchen or school.


To be a dietitian you'll need a bachelor's degree, although some employers prefer applicants with advanced degrees. You may study nutrition science, dietetics or major in another health-related field. In a nutrition science major, you can expect to gain a strong background in science through classes like biology, chemistry and anatomy and physiology. Additionally, you learn about the nutrient makeup of different foods and how these nutrients react in the human body. You may have the opportunity to gain field work experience while earning your degree. Otherwise, you may complete an internship after graduation.

Most states regulate nutritionists and/or dietitians through state licensure, certification or registration. The requirements for regulation vary for each state, but the typically include having a relevant bachelor's degree, supervised training and a passing score on an exam.

The following is a brief look at what employers were looking for in November 2012:

  • A nutrition services company in Florida hired for a registered and licensed dietitian with a master's degree to provide health assessments and personal consultations to women with eating disorders.
  • A retirement community in New Jersey sought a state licensed RD with a bachelor's degree in nutrition or dietetics to monitor nutritional health, provide nutritional advice and create dietary plans for all residents.
  • A healthcare agency in North Carolina hired for an RD with a bachelor's degree and clinical nutrition experience to perform nutrition assessments in compliance with regulations and implement nutritional care methods.

Standing Out

Since certification is not always required, you can stand out as a dietitian by earning your Registered Dietitian (RD) credential. Eligibility requirements include earning a bachelor's degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), completing an ACEND-approved practical training program and passing the Commission on Dietetic Registration's national exam. Continuing education is necessary to maintain the credential.

You can also join professional organizations, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Through membership, you may receive access to educational and professional development opportunities that keep you current on the latest industry developments.

Food Scientist

Food scientists use specialized knowledge to protect and enhance the food supply. They perform research, design new products and protect consumers by supplying information. As a food scientist, you may work in a lab, visit farms or food processing factories and conduct research. Potential employers include government agencies, universities and private companies.


To work as a food scientist, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in agricultural, food or nutritional science; majors in biology, chemistry or a related engineering or science field may also help you prepare for this career. You can find several schools offering bachelor's programs in agricultural or food science. Common learning concepts in these programs cover human nutrition, food analysis, food safety and food product development. According to the BLS, some food or agricultural scientists earn doctorate degrees.

In November 2012 employers were looking for the following qualities:

  • A food and beverage company in Texas sought a food scientist to design experiments, analyze ingredient costs and provide information to aid in marketing efforts. Candidates needed experience in ingredient functionality and product formulation.
  • A consumer goods company in New Jersey hired for an entry-level food scientist to perform analytical, microbiological and sensory testing with its food product development team. Candidates needed bachelor's degrees in food science and experience, which could be fulfilled through internships.
  • A fruit processing company in Indiana advertised for a food research and development scientist with a bachelor's or master's degree in food science, food technology or food engineering to create new fruit preparation techniques, optimize costs and communicate with other team members.

Standing Out

One way to stand out is by choosing a land-grant university. These institutions receive funding from the federal government that may go to research studies, and you may find undergraduate research opportunities. According to the BLS, each state has a land-grant university offering agricultural science-related majors. While earning your degree, seek out internship opportunities. Several consumer food companies offer internships to students in food science degree programs. In addition to gaining professional experience, you may also earn course credit.

Obtaining voluntary certification as a Certified Food Scientist through the Institute of Food Technologists can help validate your educational and professional expertise. To sit for the certification exam, you must meet specific education and experience requirements. If you have a bachelor's degree in food science, you must also earn three years of full-time professional experience; however, if you have a bachelor's in a related science, you must have six years of full-time work experience.

Health Educator

Health educators promote wellness by delivering presentations, designing programs and informing the public about healthy lifestyle options. They may work in schools, non-profit organizations, hospitals or community organizations. In this position, you may work with clients one-on-one or teach in group settings. You may cover a variety of topics or focus on a specific area, depending on your professional setting. For example, health educators on college campuses typically address drug and alcohol issues, while those employed at hospitals might promote health screenings.


A bachelor's degree is typically required for a career in health education. Majors in health education and nutrition science provide relevant coursework that may include community health, health policy, anatomy and physiology and nutrition. A master's degree may be required for government positions.

The following are some examples of what employers looked for in November 2012:

  • In North Carolina, a non-profit medical group advertised for a health educator with a bachelor's degree in a healthcare-related field and clinical experience to educate patients and their families on managing health risks.
  • An Illinois health system sought a health educator to communicate with patients, follow protocols and help clients change behaviors. Candidates needed either bachelor's degrees in behavioral health or health education and one year of healthcare-related experience or master's degrees in a related field.
  • In Pittsburgh, a health educator with a bachelor's in health education was needed at a healthcare facility to work with young adults. Duties included community outreach, fundraising and curriculum evaluation.

Standing Out

According to the BLS, some employers require or prefer candidates who have earned the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. To be eligible for the certification exam, you must earn a bachelor's degree in health education or earn a specific amount of credits in relevant coursework. The organization also offers the Master of Certified Health Education Specialist to health educators with at least five years of experience. To be able to sit for this credential's exam, you must be a CHES for at least the previous five years or have a master's degree in health education or a field containing a certain amount of relevant coursework.

Another way to stand out as a health educator is to specialize in a certain field. Some degree programs provide emphasis options in areas that may include community, worksite or holistic health. You can also continue your professional development by attending courses and events and gaining credentials through a professional organization, such as the American Association for Health Education.

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