The nutrition profession encompasses many levels of expertise and a wide variety of career possibilities.
There are many paths a career in nutrition can follow, but none exist in isolation. Although initial employment could be in one area, this could be the stepping stone to diversifying or specialising in another area of nutrition.
In developed and developing countries, many causes of ill health are the result of malnutrition, either the over- or under-consumption of specific food groups. Nutritionists can work for organisations whose aim is to assist people suffering from specific illness, particularly those where ill health can be prevented or improved by dietary intervention, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Nutritionists can also work in health promotion through government organisations and initiatives to improve nutrition in the elderly, improve school food, promote fruit and vegetable consumption and increase physical activity.
Public Health Nutritionists can also be based in NHS Trusts (Public Health England, Clinical Commissioning Groups, Health & Wellbeing Boards and NHS England), Health Promotion, Government departments, work for a charity or in the food industry (e.g. for a large retailer or manufacturer). Depending on your qualifications, skills and experience, your work could involve surveys or policy development.
More information can be found on the NHS Careers, National Careers Service and NutritionWorks (a ‘partnership of independent international nutritionists’ who produce a publication, advertise jobs and give advice on working overseas) websites.
UKVRN registrants often work to improve the diets of individuals or groups at a time when weight control and the management of obesity, and diets to reduce the risk factors for coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes, are particularly relevant in Britain. They can only work with individuals in regards to their medical condition/s (patients) under the close supervision of a Dietitian or other regulated health professional. If you want to work with patients unsupervised and/or specialise in the therapeutic diets required in a hospital environment you must train as a Dietitian and will need a qualification in Dietetics, which can be studied as an undergraduate or post-graduate qualification. Please see the HCPC, British Dietetics Association, NHS Careers and National Careers Service website for further information on becoming a Dietitian.
Most large food retail chains and large food or beverage manufacturers now employ a nutritionist, or use a self-employed Nutrition Consultant who may be required to provide nutritional information, or information on the consumption of particular food groups, or help gain approval for specific health claims on packaging.
To find out more visit the Nutritionists in Industry website (a professional body providing information, professional development and support to this group of nutritionists), SENSE (a ‘network of self-employed nutrition consultants’ who also provide professional development, support and advice), Sector Skills Council or the Food & Grocery Industry.
After completing a degree in nutrition or dietetics, nutritionists may choose to pursue further study, by completing a master’s degree or a PhD which will involve research into a particular aspect of nutrition. To get a research training post that leads to a higher research degree (MPhil/ PhD), in a specialist institute or university, you first need a good BSc (first class or 2:1) or a good MSc. You will need postdoctoral experience to go into an academic research career. Research can involve laboratory type experiments, for example examining absorption or metabolism of nutrients, or could be of a more social/behavioural context, examining eating habits or the effects of a particular nutritional intervention.
Research is often conducted in an academic setting at university or for a government research institute (eg. the Human Nutrition Research Unit at The Medical Research Council in Cambridge). Some universities also have a commercial aspect to their research, or research can be conducted by private companies such as Leatherhead Food Research in Surrey who have ‘dedicated facilities for food analysis and research’.
Nutritionists with sufficient knowledge and experience may also work as lecturers on Nutrition courses, lecturing to students studying for a degree in Nutrition, but also to the many students who have an element of Nutrition in their course such as students of nursing, food science, biology, sports science or catering and hospitality.
You will need to have a first class or a good second class honours degree in the specialist subject you are teaching if you wish to teach at this level and most universities would also expect you to have postgraduate qualifications too, including a postgraduate certificate in training.
Teaching can be done in schools or universities. In a scientific, nutrition related field it can be teaching science/food technology/home economics in schools or lecturing in nutrition at a university.
You will need to have a degree, and in the specialist subject if you are teaching at a higher level. To teach in schools you will need a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) – see the Graduate Teacher Training Registry. To become a university lecturer, you will need to have a first class or a good second class honours degree, and most universities would expect you to have postgraduate qualifications was well.
Depending on where you would like to teach, you need to have up to date knowledge of the curriculum and have experience of working with children, and in some cases have suitable experience and extra skills/training, e.g. if working with children with learning disabilities. You should expect to undergo a DBS (formerly CRB) check.
Diet and nutrition for athletes has in recent years been recognised as crucial not only for maximum performance, but to avoid fatigue and to enhance recovery from training.
Sport and exercise nutritionists can promote nutrition by working in a sport, fitness and health, and recreational industries e.g. as a personal trainer. Nutritionists can also work with athletes to promote sports performance. To work with elite athletes, a degree in Nutrition or Sports Science is essential. In most cases a postgraduate qualification is desirable, but in senior positions is a must. When working with elite athletes you should be registered with the UKVRN, ideally as a Registered Nutritionist (Sport and Exercise), and/or with the SENr.
The Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register (SENr) is a ‘competency-based register of Sport and Exercise Nutritionists’ held by the UK trade union for dietitians, the British Dietetic Association (BDA). Registration requires portfolio assessment and for registrants to also hold membership with the BDA. Full Registration is available to dietitians, nutritionists and exercise scientists who can demonstrate appropriate qualifications and proficiency. Graduate Registration is available to those who have completed a suitable degree but do not have professional experience.
The British Association for Sports and Exercise Science (BASES) regulates the accreditation for sports and fitness professionals.
Animal nutrition can involve the care of pets and working animals through their diet. It can also involve the study of the animals as human food, where their diet impacts on the yield of the animal, e.g. milk or egg production, or quantity and quality of meat. You could specialise your work within this sector and could work as a consultant, in research and development, or in feed manufacture. Animal nutrition can either be studied as part of the training to become a vet, or as part of a BSc in Animal Science.
Students interested in this field may also wish to join the specialist theme at the Nutrition Society, on Food Chain, Animals and Plants or contact the British Society of Animal Science, whose aims are to ‘enhance the understanding of animal sciences and promote its integration into economic and ethical systems.’
Nutritionists with appropriate qualifications and, preferably, experience abroad can work in emergency relief or development projects in low-income countries. NutritionWorks offers training, and holds a web-based register for International Nutritionists and Food Security Specialists. The register helps individuals seek jobs and agencies who want to recruit.