What Are the Differences Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?
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Unqualified people to describe their involvement in a nutrition related practice have used a variety of titles. Many use the term “registered” with a variation of “nutrition” as a title. You should be careful to ensure that the person is a qualified nutrition professional.

The title “Registered Dietitian”, Professional Dietitian”, and “Dietitian” are protected by law – so that only qualified practitioners who have met educational qualifications can use that title.

In the United States, a Dietitian must complete a four year degree in nutrition or dietetics, a nine to twelve month internship approved by the American Dietetic Association and successful passing of a national registration test, or the Dietitian can get a masters degree with a preplanned practical experience to complete the degree and internship requirements and then take the national registration test.

Dietitians who have met national standards for education and training and who are members of The American Dietetic Association use one of the following designations – RD, PDt or RDt.

Dietitians are members of a state regulated profession that has Public Protection as their mandate. Dietitians are held accountable for their conduct and the care they provide. They are required to design their own Continuing Education Programs that are submitted to The American Dietetic Association for approval and monitoring. They must take 75 Continuing Education credits every 5 years.

Most Dietitians work with patients (Clinical Dietitians) or work with food service (Administrative Dietitians) either in hospitals, nursing homes or out patient clinics.

However, some Clinical Dietitians work in private practice, counseling patients, perform nutrition research, consult with smaller health care facilities or teach in colleges/universities. Dietitians working in community settings will typically have a job title that uses “Nutritionist” and focus on healthy eating and wellness at various stages of the lifecycle. They know medical nutrition therapy, understand food labels and have some knowledge on how to research and develop new foods for food manufacturers.

Some Registered Dietitians call themselves “Nutritionists” and in some states the title Nutritionist is protected for Dietitians. However, the definition and requirements for the term Nutritionist vary. Unfortunately, people with an interest in nutrition or who sell nutritional supplements often call themselves Nutritionist and those who qualify, become licensed. Some states have licensure laws that define the scope of practice for someone using the designation Nutritionist. For example, currently the state of New York has approved some individuals as Certified Dietitian/Nutritionists (CD/Ns) and they are investigating licensure for the term Nutritionist. In the state of New Jersey, the term Nutritionist is not protected by law so people with different levels of training and knowledge can call themselves a Nutritionist. Therefore, unless someone is a licensed Nutritionist, the title Nutritionist does not necessarily signify any education or training in nutrition or any qualifications to counsel people on nutrition.

Debbe Meyers-Bourgoin, R.D. is a registered dietitian with over 20 years experience in nutrition therapy, risk reduction services, and business management. Debbe is Director of Living Fit Center, which provides high quality programs and services to meet the weight and health management needs of the South Jersey community.

Debbe can be contacted at Living Fit Center, 110 Roosevelt Boulevard, Marmora, NJ 08223. Phone: 609.840-6287, Ext. 204; Fax: 609-840-6291; e-mail: debbe@livingfitcenter.com


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