Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
Studying in the field
It is virtually impossible to open up a newspaper or turn on a television news broadcast without seeing a number of stories on the obesity epidemic that has swept across the United States. From concerns that inactive school-age children are setting themselves up for lifetimes of health problems to the strain on the health care system and insurance industry that are caused by overweight adults, the work of nutritionists is arguably more important now than it ever has been in the past.
These professionals, who work either directly with patients in order to help facilitate a healthier lifestyle and solve some of the various issues related to nutritional disorders, or who work in more administrative roles with local and national governmental organizations, are some of the most in-demand in today's health industry. And indeed, it makes sense: With more and more people aware of the implications of not living healthy lifestyles and eating well, the demand for nutritionists continues to increase.
Because practitioners in the field must be competent in a number of aspects of it, from working with patients to creating and developing programs and individual plans, the coursework is often far more wide-ranging than most people expect. The graduate degree itself is a Master of Science, so it should come as no surprise that there is a fair amount of clinical and laboratory work. But there are also courses on less obvious aspects of the field, including statistics, public health policy and administration, epidemiology, and various courses in medical disorders and therapies used in their treatment. Therefore, it is important to realize that a degree in nutrition will require a great deal of work and a solid understanding of a number of aspects of the nutritional, medical, and behavioral fields.
The directions in which a nutritionist may go, both during school and in the professional world, are many and varied. Depending upon what you would like to focus on, your studies can be tailored to prepare you for any aspect of the field. If, for example, you are fascinated by the effects of severe malnutrition in developing countries, you can tailor your course work and research to that area of the discipline in the hopes of working one day for a relief agency. Or, if you are more interested in the science of how one's diet affects health and the various systems of the body, then you can choose to focus on the research aspect of the field. Wherever your interests lie, there is sure to be a specific aspect of the field that will meet your needs.
Job opportunities in the field
Most people think of the work of nutritionists as demanding constant contact with patients in order to more fully understand the issues that they are facing as individuals. And while this is certainly one direction to go in the field, it is far from the only one. In fact, many nutritionists work in government planning agencies in order to help the greatest number of people, including those who are suffering from a variety of ailments as well as those who want to lead healthier lives. Some work full-time in research, studying, for example, "the interaction of nutritional factors with genetic determinants of disease...[or] the interaction of nutritional factors and infectious agents" (Harvard Univesity). For these professionals, the science and analysis of the various aspects of the field are most interesting. Whatever area you choose to go into, however, the fact remains that this is a growing field whose effects are felt by a wide number of people, and whose breakthroughs benefit us all.