Is a Dietetics Degree Right for You?

Those who are interested in the connection between food and human health, and how a person’s diet can be used to reduce disease, should consider an online bachelor’s degree in dietetics. The ideal student for such a program is one who is concerned about growing health issues like childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease and who wants to make a positive impact by working to reduce these health issues through working with individuals and educating the public at large. An online dietetics degree is also a good fit for people who want to develop nutritious meal plans for populations with special health needs.

Advice for Earning Your Dietetics Degree Online

The best online degrees in dietetics will be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), which accredits bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in dietetics, including those offered online. ACEND accreditation is important because individuals who graduate from a non-ACEND accredited program are not eligible to take the Registered Dietitian exam, which is preferred or required by many employers. Keep in mind, however, that only the didactic portion of any bachelor’s program in dietetics can be offered fully online.

Dietetics internships, which are required in order to become a Registered Dietician, are site-based and provide an opportunity for dieticians in training to obtain their required hours of supervised practice. Since this component of your dietetics education will not be in an online format, working students will need to arrange with their employers to take time off as needed to fulfill any internship requirements.

Required Courses

Course work in a bachelor’s degree program in dietetics explores the chemical and nutritional properties of food; methods of nutritional assessment; how food is absorbed in the body; nutritional counseling strategies; and management of a dietetic practice. The best online dietetics programs include a clinical element in which students learn about medical nutrition therapy in a professional setting, and often include shorter-term practicum requirements where students learn hands-on skills. The following courses are common in dietetics bachelor’s programs online:

  • Nutrition in the Life Cycle
  • Community Nutrition
  • Food Service Systems Management
  • Medical Nutrition Intervention
  • Advanced Nutrition

Common Career Paths

A degree in dietetics can lead to employment in many different types of industries, including health care, government, and education. Salaries for these careers can vary greatly based on your level of experience, the size and type of your employer or client base, and the region of the country you live in. Consider the following potential careers for dietetics graduates:

Dietician

  • Expected Growth: 20%
  • Average Annual Salary: $56,170

Dietitians are food and nutrition experts. They’re responsible for explaining nutrition issues, determining a patient’s or client’s health needs, developing meal plans, and giving talks to groups about good eating habits. People in this profession may work as clinical dietitians, who provide medical nutrition therapy at hospitals and other health care facilities, or they may plan meal programs for cafeterias, hospitals, and food companies.

Dieticians typically must have a bachelor’s degree in dietetics or a related area, complete a supervised internship, and in many states, hold a state license, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The above job outlook and salary figure were provided by the BLS.

Health Educator

  • Expected Growth: 37%
  • Average Annual Salary: $53,100

Health educators are employed by nonprofits, the government, hospitals, private businesses and more to determine the wellness needs of the people they serve, develop health promotion programs, distribute educational information, and supervise staff. A health educator with a degree in dietetics would specialize in promoting health eating habits and awareness about food and nutrition.

A bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry-level positions in health education, although advancement may require a master’s degree, the BLS explained. The rapid employment growth projected in this field will be driven by an increased emphasis on prevention as a way of reducing soaring health care costs, and the salary figure was drawn from the BLS.

Food Service Manager

  • Expected Growth: -3%
  • Average Annual Salary: $52,580

Food service managers are in charge of the everyday operations of restaurants and other establishments that provide food and drink to customers. Among their many duties is inventorying and ordering food, making sure the establishment abides by health and safety codes, hiring and scheduling work hours for staff, and making sure a restaurant’s patrons are satisfied with their dining experience.

While positions in food service management don’t typically require a bachelor’s degree, postsecondary education is increasingly valued in the field, and courses in food service management that are found in dietetics programs could prove valuable in helping you prepare for such a position. The above job growth estimate and salary average were drawn from the BLS.

Food Scientist or Technologist

  • Expected Growth: 10%
  • Average Annual Salary: $60,180 (median annual wages, May 2010)

Food scientists or technologists research the chemical and nutritional makeup of food. They might apply their research to discover new sources of food or look for ways of improving the health and safety of processed foods. Some that are employed by the government perform inspections on food to make sure it meets government standards.

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is typical for this field, although advancement in research typically requires a Ph.D., the BLS explained. The median salary and job growth projection provided above are available through the BLS.

Food Science Technician

  • Expected Growth: 7%
  • Average Annual Salary: $36,390

Food science technicians work in labs with food scientists and provide assistance to them by getting food samples ready, testing food and food storage containers to make sure they meet safety standards, and charting test results. They also help keep the lab environment sterile by making sure all the instruments and equipment are properly cleaned and prepared for their next use.

While an associate degree with exposure to the biological sciences is typical for such a position, a bachelor’s degree may improve your job prospects for a technician position. The above job outlook and salary average were provided by the BLS.