JillAnn Gish: Do you know the difference between a dietitian and 'nutritionist'?
Did you know the difference between a dietitian and a “nutritionist”?
In most states in the US, the term “nutritionist” is NOT regulated by any particular governing body giving way for anyone to call himself or herself a nutritionist.
In Kentucky, however, the term “nutritionist” or certified nutritionist should NOT be used unless that person holds a license or certificate issued by the Board of Licensure and Certification for Dietitians and Nutritionists. A nutritionist in Kentucky holds a Master’s Degree or higher degree in nutrition and must also be a Registered Dietitian.
A dietitian must complete strict criteria within their state’s board of licensing or examiners and under the guidance of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The following criteria are necessary:
Complete a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree from an accredited college or university program with a curriculum approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association). Coursework consists of Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Food Science, MicroBiology, Counseling, Psychology, etc.
Completion of an accredited CADE internship, which includes 6-12 months for a specific number of supervised work hours in a healthcare facility, community facility or agency or foodservice corporation.
Successfully complete the examination administered nationally by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
Continually update their accreditation with coursework/research in the field.
Dietitians are not limited to working in institutional settings such as hospitals or schools, but also work in sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs, food and nutrition-related business and industries, private practice, community and public health settings, universities and medical centers and research areas.
Only 46 of the 50 states require a dietitian to be licensed. In 1994, Kentucky passed a licensure law which regulates and defines the scope of practice in nutrition. According to this law, an individual must be licensed as a dietitian or Certified Nutritionist within the state to practice dietetics.
A nutritionist in many states is an individual who has an interest in nutrition and healthy lifestyle. They can have little or no formal education or could hold a PhD. Since Kentucky is a licensure state, an individual cannot LEGALLY claim to be a nutritionist without meeting the criteria. However, many individuals are still claiming to be “nutritionists” and giving nutrition advice. How is this possible?
Confused? It is confusing. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is working on narrowing the confusion by patenting certifications and registrations within the nutrition/dietetics industry. Some, but not all, of these titles include:
Certified/Registered Nutrition Associate
Certified/Registered Nutrition Coach
Certified/Registered Nutrition Educator
Certified/Registered Nutrition Professional
Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics
The addition of certifications and registrations may never completely eliminate the confusion when so many are jumping on the gravy train in an unhealthy obese nation and cashing in on building businesses (whether temporary or long-term) specializing in nutrition. What will help is knowing the difference between a dietitian and “nutritionist” and knowing that an individual cannot legally hold these certifications or registrations unless they first meet all criteria of a Registered Dietitian.
So, if you are looking for a nutrition professional and seeking sound nutrition advice, consult a Registered Dietitian or Certified Nutritionist, and ALWAYS ask to see credentials.