Nutritionists play a larger role today than ever in healthcare, because diet and nutrition play a central role in wellbeing and living a healthy life. As the population grows, more issues that involve nutrition become apparent including obesity, a problem that can lead to heart issues, strokes, and diabetes.
The need for nutrition experts to provide expert guidance and education in this critical area has led to demand in the field. Many working nutritionists, looking to take on a leadership position in the field, are entering Master of Science in Nutrition degree programs to advance their knowledge about food and nutrition science and prepare themselves for more challenging and rewarding jobs.
How big is the demand for nutritionists? The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 15% growth in the field by 2026. They also report a mean annual wage nationwide in the profession of $60,150 as of May 2017. That number is even higher in Massachusetts, where the mean annual wage is $63,160. The top 10% in the profession make about $92,000 a year in Massachusetts. In addition, the Boston metro area is one of the top 10 metropolitan areas in the country for employment of nutritionists.
Issues in Nutrition
The continuing growth in population is one underlying factor in the need for healthcare professionals in all areas. Some of them, including those in nutrition, will focus their efforts on an aging population that is generally expected to live and remain active longer than previous generations. Others may focus on children or underserved populations. But there are issues specific to nutrition. One major challenge is the obesity rate in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control recently released new numbers showing that obesity is “common, serious and costly.” The centers report that obesity impacts about 39.8% of the population and the lives of 93 million adults. For this reason, education on proper food and nutrition is increasingly integrated into promoting health and wellness through government agencies, community centers, schools, and hospitals.
What You Learn in Master’s Degree Program
Students pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition will leave school prepared to take on the highest-level jobs in the profession. This can now be done through online degree programs that allow students to maintain their jobs while furthering their education.
Using the Master of Science at the University of Massachusetts as an example, students can expect to take coursework in many areas, including:
- Public Health Nutrition
- Vitamins and Minerals
- Methods in Nutrition Research
Where Nutritionists Work
Nutrition experts who have earned a master’s degree are qualified to take leadership positions in this growing area of healthcare. The job opportunities are many and varied. For example, a nutritionist may work for a public agency, designing programs to better educate those in low-income areas on living better through healthy food and nutrition choices. They may work or manage community centers or outpatient care centers that work directly with those in underserved communities or those recovering from illness or injury. They may design nutrition programs for people in at-risk populations.
Most nutritionists (about 30%) work in hospitals, helping patients on the road to wellness through education on healthy food and nutrition, according to the BLS. One job duty is creating meal plans for patients that provide the nutrition they need.
The role of nutritionists is only expected to expand as more people recognize that good eating habits are a central component of good health. For those looking for positions of responsibility in the profession, a master’s degree program can open the door to a rewarding career.