Nutritionists have a healthy regard for food and its life-sustaining properties. They are
primarily concerned with the prevention and treatment of illnesses through proper dietary
care. Nutritionists evaluate the diets of patients and clients suffering from medical disorders
and suggest ways of fighting various health problems by modifying the patient’s intake of
certain food items. As one nutritionist puts it, “It’s basically all about balance—the older you
get, the more you begin to understand the importance of balance in your life, and your diet
is no exception.”Hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are some of the common health problems
that nutritionists work to alleviate. Through education
and research, they also promote sensible eating habits in communities,
schools, hospitals, prisons, clinics, and nursing
homes. Like all other health professionals, nutritionists are motivated by a concern to
improve people’s quality of life.
Food manufacturers, advertisers,marketers, and some enlightened restaurateurs employ
nutritionists to organize, develop, analyze, test, and prepare meals that are low in fat and cholesterol
and virtually devoid of chemical additives. Nutritionists usually specialize in one of
three major areas of practice: clinical, community, or administrative management. Clinical
nutritionists service the needs of clients who are institutionalized. They develop, implement,
and maintain nutritional programs for individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, retirement
communities, day care centers, and prisons. Before proposing or implementing any dietary
program, nutritionists must consult with doctors or other health professionals to ensure that
medical and dietary needs are optimized. Community nutritionists are an integral part of
health clinics, clubs, agencies, and HMOs. They advise individuals and groups on the nutritional
practices that will promote good health. They also structure and recommend diet plans
for whole families, often including guides to the correct preparation of meals and shopping
for the right foods. Meal planning and preparation on a large scale, such as for a school district,
requires the careful supervision of administrative or management nutritionists. Their
responsibilities include preparing food budgets, purchasing food, ensuring that health and
safety codes are strictly observed, maintaining records, and writing reports.
Nutritionists often spend the greater part of their workday on their feet. Hot, steamy
kitchens also figure prominently in a nutritionist’s career, although many of them end up
working in well-lit, properly ventilated environments. But nutritionists must be prepared to
work in environments that are not always equipped with modern conveniences or sometimes
fall short of prescribed standards. In such work situations, the primary concern of the nutritionist
will be to bring the work environment up to standard by enforcing health and safety
codes and improving overall production capacity.
A bachelor’s degree with a major in dietetics, food and nutrition, food service systems
management, or a related subject is the basic requirement of this profession. Courses in the
sciences, such as biology,microbiology, mathematics, statistics, psychology, and sociology are
core course requirements.
The principles of nutrition are readily applied to a number of areas of modern life.
Home economists, nurses, therapists, home-care attendants, health educators, and even chefs
all require a working knowledge of nutrition. Some nutritionists report or prepare publications
on food and health-related issues, such as the importance of fiber in the diet and the
efficacy of vitamin supplements. The growing popularity and marketing power of the fitness
industry coupled with an overall movement toward healthier lifestyles as a consequence of
the growing incidence of heart disease and obesity among America’s aging population has
ensured the place of nutritionists in the scheme of things.