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What is a Nutrition Science Degree?
If you have a passion for health and wellness—and for helping people—getting a degree in nutrition science might be a viable option to consider. A nutrition science degree studies the relationship between food, diet, and human health—and also takes an in-depth look into what the body requires in order to achieve and maintain optimal health.
Obesity has reached an all-time high in the United States. It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that individuals educated in nutrition are in high demand in food and health-related businesses.
Earning a degree in nutrition science will arm you with the knowledge and skills to:
- understand the scientific principles behind nutrition
- share helpful scientific nutritional knowledge with people and organizations
- be instrumental in implementing nutrition education programs in a variety of settings
- assess the nutritional and health requirements of patients or clients
- devise custom made meal plans for clients
- be an effective and knowledgable communicator and advocate for health and wellness
- have the ability to make a positive change in people's health and lives
Graduates from a nutrition science program can go on to work as nutritionists, health educators, health coaches, health consultants, or as international aid workers. As such, they are able to educate their patients or clients on what healthy eating habits look like, advise them on the health effects of certain foods, and even help individuals who have medical issues (such as diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders) find the right foods to eat to achieve their best level of health.
Those looking to be nutritionists can specialize as:
- Clinical Nutritionists - employed by hospitals, long-term care facilities, private practice, clinics
- Community Nutritionists - employed by public health centers, government agencies, HMOs
- Management Nutritionists - employed in cafeterias, prisons, hospitals, schools
There are several degree options in nutrition science, depending on what your career goals are:
Associate of Science in Nutrition - Two Year Duration
An Associate of Science in Nutrition degree gives students a basic overview and a solid foundation of the subject, as well as practical training that prepares them for work. Students are not able to become registered nutritionists by earning this degree. However, they are able to work under the supervision of registered nutritionists or dieticians as dietetic technicians in hospitals, private medical offices, public health agencies, and integrative health and wellness companies.
Courses in this program include: weight management theory, herbal sciences, community nutrition, sports nutrition, sustainable food systems, and cultural foods.
Bachelor of Science in Nutrition - Four Year Duration
A Bachelor of Science in Nutrition degree program has students studying nutrition at a more in-depth level than they would in an associate degree program. This program is designed to prepare students to work as registered dietician nutritionists, and is also a stepping stone for those who want to continue on with graduate studies. It gives a solid foundation of nutrition theory and a background in the biological, chemical, and nutrition sciences.
Students start off by building foundational knowledge. Examples of courses are: basic nutrition, nutrition in the life stages, nutrition therapy, public health nutrition, assessment of nutritional status, food and nutrition research, nutrition education, basic foods, meal management, and fundamentals of food technology. Students will gradually advance to specialized topics, such as: medical nutrition therapy, food service program administration, and experimental food science.
The first two years are typically taken up by core courses in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. For the remaining two years, students are able to focus on an area of concentration—three common areas of concentration are the nutrition science track (for those intending to go to graduate school), the nutrition and health track (for those interested in pursuing careers in nutrition as well as another specialty area), and the dietetics track (for those interested in working as a registered dietician nutritionist).
Master of Science in Nutrition - Two Year Duration
A Master of Science in Nutrition is designed for practicing registered dietician nutritionists, registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals wanting to broaden their knowledge and skills, and also for those wanting to focus on a particular specialty. Specialty areas include obesity prevention, pregnancy health, sports nutrition, and more.
Examples of courses in this program include: medical nutrition therapy, probability or statistics, molecular biology, public policy, and health issues. Master-level programs in nutrition often include a research component and a thesis.
PhD in Nutrition - Two to Four Year Duration
A PhD in nutrition is designed for those interested in working as nutrition professors, researchers, administrators and/or leaders in public health.
Doctoral programs in nutrition normally require students to take graduate-level courses in: advanced nutrition, vitamins and minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates, nutritional epidemiology, nutritional assessment methods, and research methods and applications.
After coursework has been completed, students need to take a doctoral qualifying exam before they can start work on their dissertations. Depending on the program, exams can take six to eight days to complete, six to eight hours each day.
Degrees Similar to Nutrition Science
Because it's such an interdisciplinary field, nutrition science can overlap with other degree programs. For example:
A health science degree prepares students for careers as patient educators, health education teachers, trainers, and health program managers. Health educators work in elementary and secondary schools, governmental agencies, community health and welfare groups, non-profit organizations, and private businesses. This degree program is focused more on health than nutrition.
A public health degree covers the theory, history and practice of public health as well as more specific education in areas like environmental health, social and behavioural impacts on health, and epidemiology. Those that choose to work in public health focus on diet, pollution, sanitation, hygiene, policies, and practices—ultimately striving to make sure that all areas of public life are clean, safe and healthy.
A food science degree blends nutrition, biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering together to help solve food quality problems and develop safe food production for people everywhere. It prepares students for a successful career in the food industry within the public, corporate, or government sector.
An epidemiology degree looks at an area of medicine that focuses on the cause, transmission, prevention, and treatment of diseases in a population. Epidemiologists study diseases and how they affect a given group or community and use their discoveries to prevent future outbreaks and to educate the public.
Skills You'll Learn
Graduates of a nutrition science degree program will come out with many valuable and transferable skills, such as:
- Time management skills
- Team working skills
- Understanding the impact of diet on health
- Interpersonal skills
- Strong verbal and written communication skills
- Knowledge of the scientific aspects of food
- Ability to motivate others
- Business skills
- Ability to explain complex ideas simply
- Ability to prioritize work and work under pressure
- Computer skills
- Ability to be tactful and to deal with sensitive issues
- Negotiation skills
- Ability to be empathetic to other peoples' feelings
What Can You Do with a Nutrition Science Degree?
A degree in nutrition science can lead to a variety of different careers. Job opportunities continue to grow in a variety of areas, including the ones listed below:
- Nursing care facilities
- Health services
- Community work
- Physical fitness industry
- Clinical trial work
- Food industry
- Product/process development
- Sports nutrition
- Not-for-profit work
- Volunteer work
- Public services
- Pharmaceutical industry
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