With increasing rates of chronic and complex conditions related to dietary intake and poor nutrition, the nutrition and dietetics professions have never been more important.
What do dietitians and nutritionists do?
Dietitians and registered nutritionists are qualified allied health professionals who work with individuals, communities, and populations to promote healthy food choices and optimise nutritional and dietary intake.
Both dietitians and registered nutritionists are registered nutrition scientists: dietitians develop specialised skills within the area of clinical practice to support the management and treatment of medical conditions; registered nutritionists develop specialised skills in areas including public health, food science, research and sports nutrition to support people maintain and improve their health at an individual or population level.
Dietitians practice in four key areas:
- clinical services
- food services management
- community and public health
- education and research.
In the clinical setting, dietitians provide evidence-based services that include individual and group dietary therapy, individual dietary counselling, and medical nutrition therapy.
Dietitians work with people of all ages, from neonates born prematurely through to people who are elderly. They promote optimal nutrition for people experiencing a broad range of acute and chronic conditions including diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, cancer, food allergies, and many more. Dietitians often work as part of a multidisciplinary team with some specialising in particular areas of clinical practice (e.g., tube feeding or preparation for weight loss surgery) or focusing on certain conditions (e.g., eating disorders or mental health).
Registered nutritionists tend to work with individuals and businesses at the food industry, community, academia, organisational, at a policy or population level. They provide advice and guidance around improving health through foods, dietary patterns, reformulation, and behaviours. Nutritionists fill a range of roles in numerous areas of practice, including research, consulting and advising, health promotion, public health, community development, quality assurance, food technology, and in the media.
Workplace locations for nutrition and dietetics
Dietitians and registered nutritionists work in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, the USA, across Europe, Singapore, and others.
Dietitians and registered nutritionists work in multiple healthcare settings including hospitals, rehabilitation centres, community health services, general practice clinics, and in private practice. They also work in residential aged care, with sports teams, in gyms and fitness centres, the food industry, and in higher education and research settings.
What are the professional education and regulatory frameworks for nutrition and dietetics?
Working as a dietitian in Australia will require at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics. Many graduates go on to attain postgraduate qualifications in specialist areas (e.g., eating disorders, public health, sport, research).
Dietetics is self-regulated by Dietitians Australia and optional for Australian dietitians.
To be registered and work as a Registered Nutritionist in Australia will require at least a bachelor’s degree in nutrition science verified through the Australian Qualifications Framework. Many graduates obtain postgraduate qualifications in specialist areas of practice (e.g. public health, research, sports, food industry, animal, global nutrition)
Registration is available with the Nutrition Society of Australia and is optional for Australian nutritionists
In the UK, dietitians must hold either a Bachelor of Science degree with honours, a postgraduate diploma in dietetics, or a master’s level dietetics qualification. Courses must be approved by the Health and Care Professionals Council.
Registered nutritionists in the UK must attain a three or four-year undergraduate degree in nutrition science, a master’s level qualification or a PhD in nutrition science. Courses are accredited by the Association for Nutrition. To transfer up from associate level, a minimum of three years professional experience and the submission of a practice portfolio is required.
In the UK, dietitians (or dieticians) are statutorily regulated by the Health & Care Professions Council. Registered nutritionists are regulated by the Association for Nutrition via a voluntary register.
Dietitians must have an undergraduate degree in science as well as a postgraduate dietetics qualification to work in New Zealand.
Registered nutritionists require a bachelor’s degree or postgraduate qualification in human nutrition, as well as a minimum of two years of experience in the nutrition field.
In New Zealand, dietitians are the only nutritional healthcare profession to be regulated under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HPCA Act), with registration required with the Dietitians Board and a current practising licence held. Nutritionists can choose to become a registered nutritionist by applying to the Nutrition Society of New Zealand.
At minimum, dietitians require a bachelor’s degree in dietetics approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to work in the USA. As of 2024, those seeking to sit the Commission on Dietetic Registration examination will be required to hold a master’s degree in dietetics.
The professional education requirements for nutritionists in the USA vary. In states where the term “nutritionist” is not regulated, there are no minimal educational requirements for those who wish to use the title.
Licensure for dietitians and nutritionists varies from state to state.
Canadian dietitians require an undergraduate degree in human nutrition and dietetics along with practice-based training to register with the regulatory body within their province. Many provinces require individuals to complete the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination (CDRE) and use the professional title regulated by that province. Dietetics students can complete an integrated program where undergraduate study and practice-based learning occur simultaneously. Alternatively, they can apply for a master’s or diploma level program or an internship-style postgraduate training program within a healthcare setting once they have attained their undergraduate degree.
In Canada, dietitians are self-regulated by provincial regulatory bodies. Regulation for nutritionists and the title nutritionist varies between provinces.
Dietitians and nutritionists in Singapore are required to undertake a Bachelor or master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition, followed by at least six months of clinical internship.
Dietitians and nutritionists in Singapore are not regulated, however in 2005, the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association implemented an accreditation scheme for its members.
Nutrition and dietetics workforce considerations
The dietetics and nutrition fields are diverse and dynamic, with new research and knowledge being produced frequently. Dietitians and nutritionists therefore must work hard to stay up to date with the latest evidence and be prepared to implement this in their practice accordingly.
To make things even more difficult, there is a lot of misinformation regarding diet and nutrition out there—dietitians and nutritionists have an important role to play in busting myths and keeping both their clients and health professional colleagues informed of the best current evidence.
Find out more about nutrition and dietetics
Here are some links to websites and resources for and about dietitians and nutritionists:
- Dietitians Australia
- The Nutrition Society of Australia
- Dietitians New Zealand
- Dietitians Board | New Zealand
- Nutrition Society of New Zealand
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics | USA
- American Nutrition Association
- Dietitians of Canada
- British Dietetic Association
- Association for Nutrition | UK
- The European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians
- Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association
If you have questions about the nutrition and dietetics professions, or if you wish to share your experiences as a dietitian or nutritionist, please leave a comment below.
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