Dietetics serves up healthy career opportunities
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Registered dietitians can select from a smorgasbord of career options as an aging U.S. population becomes more health conscious, say experts from Purdue University.
Currently, about 13 percent of the U.S. population is over age 65. In 2030, this demographic group will be 20 percent of the population, said Olivia B. Wood, associate professor of foods, director of the dietetics didactic program and a registered dietitian.
Labor experts predict that an aging population will increase the demand for nutritional counseling and diet supervision in nursing homes, community health programs, home health-care agencies, schools and other institutions, she said. As public interest in nutrition grows, more emphasis on health education and healthy lifestyles will further feed demand for dietitians and nutritionists, especially in management areas.
According to the latest figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of the dietitians and nutritionists employed in 1998 worked in hospitals, nursing homes or physician's offices and clinics. State and local government agencies accounted for one in six jobs, primarily in health departments and public health related programs.
"Increasing opportunities exist in wellness and fitness programs, especially for students who choose a double major in nutrition, fitness and health," said Wood, who won the American Dietetic Association's Excellence in Dietetic Education Award in October. She says she sees a broader role for registered dietitians in the years ahead.
"Dietetics is not just working with sick people. It's a wide open field now," Wood says. "People are interested in staying healthy. Science is broadening our knowledge about nutrition's role in our lives. With the help of dietitians, we can learn from infancy to eat right and prevent or delay chronic diseases. Registered dietitians are fast becoming key health-care professionals."
Among their duties, dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs, supervise proper nutritional preparation of meals, promote healthy eating habits through education and conduct research.
Many registered dietitians specialize in pediatric dietetics, diabetes, renal and nutrition support. Other major areas of practice include business and industry consulting, clinical management and research. Even sports teams, resorts, cruise ships and health clubs employ registered dietitians and nutrition experts, Wood says.
The fastest job growth is projected for contract providers of food services, social services agencies and physicians' offices and clinics.
To become a registered dietitian, students must complete a four-year academic program, a 900-hour supervised experience or internship and then pass a national examination to earn their credential. Purdue graduates' boast a 100 percent passage rate, and their test scores consistently rank above the national average.
Purdue's Department of Foods and Nutrition in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences offers two dietetics programs. One is a four-year academic curricula that is followed by supervised practical experience. The other includes the supervised experience component during the senior year at Purdue.
Major requirements toward graduation include courses in organic chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, nutrition, food chemistry, medical nutrition therapy, quantity food production, personnel management, diet selection and planning.
Purdue ranks fourth out of 127 programs reviewed in Dr. Jack Gourman's National Education Standards Rating of Undergraduate Programs in American and International Universities. As of 1999, there were 235 bachelor's and master's degree programs approved by the American Dietetic Association's accrediting body.
"Purdue offers a special undergraduate educational experience because of our research ability and because our students can take part in clinical trials," said Connie Weaver, department head and the recent past president of the American Society of Nutrition Science. "The trial experience makes a better health-care provider. With that dimension, many would consider Purdue No.1."
The jobs are there. In the Dec. 1 national edition of Jobs in Dietetics, readers could review 32 full pages of employment opportunities for registered dietitians.
With available jobs and an evolving role in health care, practicing dietitians can expect to earn a living wage. Median annual income for dietitians and nutritionists was $35,020 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,010-$42,720 per year. The highest 10 percent earned more than $51,320.
Sources: Olivia Wood, (765) 494-8238, firstname.lastname@example.org
Connie Weaver, (765) 494-8231, email@example.com
Writer: Grant A. Flora, (765) 494-2075, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com