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Food for Thought: Career Trends in Nutrition and Dietetics

Thanks to the demographic bulge created by the baby boomers, business is booming for nutrition experts. As the boomers age and start to look for help in living longer, healthier lives, opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists will grow brighter.

As more people have come to recognize the connection between good eating habits and disease prevention, dietitians have assumed an important new role in promoting and playing a role in the health and well-being of the population.

The field of dietetics has a wide scope, says Barb Anderson. When Anderson isn't lecturing as an associate professor in food science and nutrition, she's working at her local public health department.

In her community, "dietitians work primarily in small to mid-sized hospitals," Anderson says. "But the non-traditional side of nutrition is really on the rise." She attributes part of that rise in non-traditional dietetics to the boomers' growing interest in nutrition.

Non-traditional dietetics includes things like sports nutrition, food industry consulting -- helping with consumer research, product development and marketing -- community counseling and even physiotherapy.

Non-traditional is also descriptive of a move from publicly funded work to privately funded work, a trend Anderson says should continue in the future. Recent cuts to the health care system are at least partly to blame.

"Health-care cuts have damaged the delivery of the message," says professor Linda Jacobs Starkey, university coordinator at McGill University's school of nutrition.

"Before, the need-to-know information and nice-to-know information were all in the same place: the hospital. Nowadays, people still receive the need-to-know info at the hospital, but they get the nice-to-know stuff elsewhere. As a result, private practices are really growing."

Starkey calls attention to the number of dietitians working in senior citizens' residences. "One of the trends already starting is that dietitians are working more and more as advisors and counselors at these homes by monitoring the nutritional statuses of the people there."

She says this trend is only going to grow. "With all of the work that's been done, we are healthy a lot longer. A lot of nutrition counseling will be to work with older people that are healthy, who are looking to maintain their well-being."

Another major trend seems to be the use of vitamins, yet another avenue for dietitians to set up shop on.

"[Boomers] readily treat their health problems with over-the-counter medications and they're warming up to dietary supplements," writes Alison Stein Wellner in American Demographics.

A new feature in the nutrition industry seems to be the use of "functional foods." These are foods that are not only nutritious, but also contain ingredients that are beneficial to health, such as margarine with cholesterol-lowering ingredients.

Right now, only a small percentage of the population is aware of the benefits of these foods, but dietitians and nutritionists are spreading the news.

So if the future is looking so bright for dietitians, what do you have to do to become one?

You need a university degree in dietetics, nutrition or a related field. Individual states handle the certification from there, which can involve a couple of years of supervised training and registration with a recognized body.

Starkey says enjoying science is a key. "You need to love to learn," she says. "And you have to be willing to commit to a lifelong learning process because new things are always emerging -- new technologies, new studies, new trends. You have to be the kind of person who's excited by them."

Anderson concurs. "You have to accept that the profession is always changing. I think the key is you have to work with people instead of just telling them what to do. The demand is there, but we must work together."


Council for Responsible Nutrition
A trade association that represents over 80 nutritional supplement companies

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
For information about the career, education and trends in the field

International Food Information Council Foundation
A very good all-in-one site, with reliable information

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