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What Is a Public Health Nutritionist?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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Public health nutritionists are professionals who are charged with the responsibility of seeing to the nutritional needs of the wider community. Unlike a registered dietitian who works with people on an individual basis, the public health nutritionist is concerned with making sure everyone living in a given area has the ability to receive enough in the way of vitamins and minerals to promote an equitable standard of health. A nutritionist of this type is likely to be associated with a municipal or other government agency, such as a public health department.

The typical public health nutritionist is focused on identifying and resolving problems within the local community. This involves developing and applying a basic set of nutritional policies that form the basis for the public health programs operating within the area. For example, a public nutritionist may be involved in making sure that salt consumed in the area is fortified with iodine in order to minimize the incidence of goiter among the populace. In like manner, the nutritionist may be directly involved in nutrition programs aimed at making sure elderly citizens, shut ins, and families with low incomes have access to basic foods that provide a foundation for good nutrition.

A qualified public health nutritionist may also consider public health careers such as teaching basic nutrition to a subset within the community. For example, the nutritionist may provide diet and nutrition advice to people recently diagnosed with diabetes. Utilizing classes that are scheduled on a recurring basis, the public health nutritionist helps groups of diabetics understand what should and should not be consumed in order to optimize health. This includes teaching the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates, how to balance the body’s need for carbohydrate intake with the elevation of blood glucose levels, and how to identify alternatives for foods that should be eliminated or limited altogether from the daily diet. This may also include drafting a general diabetes nutrition program for diabetics to follow.

In terms of training, many employers require that a public health nutritionist hold a degree related to food and nutrition. Degrees of this type are often available through both local vocational centers and many colleges and universities. In addition, applying for most public health jobs of this type will also require that the individual be registered and certified locally as a dietitian. In addition, additional studies focused on a particular aspect of public nutrition may be necessary before the public health nutritionist can be considered for a particular position.

Local municipalities typically provide information to interested parties on any public health jobs that are currently available in the immediate area. In addition, there are now networking web sites that allow qualified candidates to identify opportunities for public health careers as a nutritionist in many different cities and towns around the world.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Jan 17, 2015

@irontoenail - I'd agree if it weren't for the fact that kids are often involved and they don't exactly get to decide what they eat. If it weren't for the fact that they put iodine in salt decades ago, we'd still have people everywhere sporting goiters and with much lower IQs because they weren't given enough iodine as children.

I think people should be able to make their own decisions up to a point, but the nutrition that children receive as they grow is going to affect them for the rest of their lives. It's not fair to make them pay for their parent's negligence.

Which is why public health nutritionists are often so involved in school lunches. It's a place where they can do an enormous amount of good for the community as a whole.

By irontoenail — On Jan 17, 2015

@Ana1234 - People do have a right to be able to decide what is in their food. And there are plenty of other ways for mothers to get folic acid if they need it. It doesn't have to be force-fed to the rest of the population.

I think a public health nutritionist should simply be informing the public about what their options are and the consequences of the choices that they can make, not dictating what they can and can't eat.

By Ana1234 — On Jan 16, 2015

It must be very frustrating doing this job when there are so many people out there who seem to be determined to see conspiracies in any attempt at providing extra nutrition for the public. I remember recently that putting folic acid in bread was shot down locally because people didn't like the idea of any kind of additive being put in their bread.

It wouldn't have made any difference for most people but it would have prevented birth defects that can occur when pregnant mothers don't get enough folic acid in their diet. Considering how many additives are already in bread, it was ridiculous for people to refuse one more that would actually help the public's health.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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