One or two online courses will not make you a certified nutritionist. Each state now has specific educational, experience and licensing requirements to become a certified nutritionist. You also must pass a state board examination and pay a certification fee. The U.S. Bureau of Labor says 33 states require licensing, 12 require statutory certification and one requires registration to practice as a certified, registered or licensed dietitian or nutritionist.
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The minimum educational requirement in very few states, such as New York, is an associate’s degree in nutrition. Online or campus degree programs must be accredited by the state department of education. An associate’s degree requires two years of study, taking courses in math, biology, chemistry, psychology and selected courses in the life cycle of nutrition, nutrition education, sports nutrition or cultural nutrition. With this degree, you also need about eight years of full-time experience working in dietetics or nutrition before you can apply for state certification.
Other states require a minimum of a baccalaureate degree in nutrition to be certified as a nutritionist. Online or campus degree programs must be accredited by the state department of education. A bachelor's degree requires four years of coursework. Your first two years involve preparatory courses in math, biology, chemistry, psychology and nutrition. Your last two years will focus on community nutrition, clinical nutrition, food science, biochemistry, microbiology, genetics, pharmacology, immunology and public health. With this degree, you also need about 800 hours of work experience in dietetics or nutrition before you can apply for state certification.
State laws and regulations govern and protect the professional titles of dietitian and nutritionist. Credentialing requirements vary from state to state. A state-specific license, a state-specific certification or national registration will allow you to practice as a nutritionist or dietitian legally in that state. A good place to start is the American Dietetic Association, which provides a quick glance of a list of states and their laws for dietitian and nutritionist. The ADA also provides a list of state agencies to contact about requirements, or you can contact your state education department, state department of health, or state dietetic association directly to find out the credential requirements in your state.
States are now protecting the professional titles of dietitian and nutritionist through laws and regulations to protect the public from unqualified individuals who represent themselves as a certified nutritionist or dietitian. Some states, like California, do not recognize or protect the title of nutritionist. California recognizes and protects only the title of registered dietitian. If you have graduated with a bachelor's degree in nutrition science from an accredited school such as the University of California, Davis, and you decided not to take the dietetics route, contact the state to determine an appropriate professional title for you. Other states, like Washington, recognize and protect the title of certified nutritionist. The Washington State Department of Health states that anyone representing himself as a certified dietitian or certified nutritionist must be certified by the state. Be sure you have taken the proper path and meet state laws to represent yourself legally as a certified nutritionist in your state.