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What Is a Public Health Nutritionist?

Written by: North Carolina Central University   •  Jun 27, 2024

A public health nutritionist working on a laptop.

What Is a Public Health Nutritionist?

Nutrition plays a major role in the health of a community. Millions of Americans face food insecurity, while millions more experience diet-related medical conditions. Many communities need nutritional resources and support to thrive.

Public health nutritionists specialize in educating communities about nutritional health. They develop nutritional programs, recommend public health nutritional policies, and seek to help people in certain populations improve their diets. Earning a degree in public health education can prepare individuals for a career in this important field.

Public Health Nutritionist Job Description

By blending food science and public health outreach, public health nutritionists provide resources for at-risk communities and advocate for policies that improve community members’ health.

Health education is at the core of the public health nutritionist job description. Public health nutritionists communicate scientific information and research findings to the public. They evaluate scientific studies on nutrition and translate nutrition science into understandable, actionable messages. They then communicate these messages to the public by creating educational materials or providing instruction to educate communities.

In addition, public health nutritionists recommend nutritional policies for schools, health care facilities, and other organizations. For example, they may design meal plans that meet a population’s nutritional needs. Or they may consult on nutritional policies and their impact on public health or food access.

Required Public Health Nutritionist Skills

Public health nutritionists rely on a range of skills to perform their job duties. In addition to foundational knowledge in public health and food science, these professionals must have specialized training.

Knowledge in the following areas is required for public health nutritionists:

  • Health education: Because public health nutritionists share information with the public about food science, experience in health education benefits these professionals. Knowing how to design and implement effective educational programs is a key skill.

  • Data analysis: These professionals evaluate survey data, medical records, and other statistical data to evaluate the health and nutritional issues of a community, which means they need strong research and analytical skills.

  • Public health policy: Nutritionists in this specialty need a background in public health policy to recommend effective programs and policies.

Public health nutritionists also need these soft skills:

  • Communication skills: The ability to communicate effectively with policymakers, health care workers, and the public is a critically important skill for public health nutritionists. Strong listening and speaking skills allow these professionals to explain complicated concepts while considering the community’s concerns.

  • Empathy: Public health nutritionists often support communities facing significant health or dietary issues. Being able to express empathy and compassion helps them connect with and meet the needs of these communities.

  • Organizational skills: Depending on their job, public health nutritionists may manage programs, plan events, or educate community groups. Organizational skills help these professionals juggle complex projects while staying focused on their priorities.

Public Health Nutritionist Salary and Job Outlook

Demand for specialists in public health, food science, and health education continues to grow.

Health education specialists have a median annual salary of $62,860, according to May 2023 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Dietitians and nutritionists have a median annual salary of $69,680.

The job outlook for nutritionists and health education specialists is strong. Employment in both of these fields is projected to grow 7% from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than average, according to the BLS.

How to Become a Public Health Nutritionist

Public health nutritionist positions require a blend of education and experience. While professionals take many paths to this role, here are the common steps people take to become a public health nutritionist.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Working in public health, health education, or dietetics requires a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, preferably in public health or a related field. Coursework in food science, community health education, and public health prepares students for careers in these fields. An understanding of health disparities, social justice, and health policy also benefits prospective public health nutritionists.

Gain Work Experience

Work experience prepares candidates for job opportunities as a public health nutritionist. For example, aspiring public health nutritionists may gain hands-on experience through an internship while pursuing their bachelor’s degree. Entry-level experience as a public health educator prepares professionals to move into a specialized role as a public health nutritionist.

Pursue Licensure and Certification

Depending on their job title, public health nutritionists may need a state-issued license or a professional certification. For example, many states require nutritionists to hold a license. Employers may also prefer to hire certified professionals. Common certifications include the certified health education specialist and certified nutrition specialist credentials.

Consider a Master’s Degree

Public health nutritionists may benefit from earning a graduate degree. A master’s in public health, health education, or dietetics can help professionals advance. For example, becoming a registered dietitian requires a master’s degree. Earning a master’s degree can also help public health nutritionists specialize their skills.

Launch Your Public Health Nutritionist Career at North Carolina Central University

Public health nutritionists play a vital role in improving a community’s health and wellness. Begin your journey to a public health nutritionist career by enrolling in the Bachelor of Science in Public Health Education program at NCCU Online.

With its focus on community education, preventive care, and advocacy, the online degree completion program can help you strengthen the skills you’ll need to support healthy communities. You’ll learn how to design and implement strategies to improve community members’ health. You’ll also gain career-ready skills through a public health education internship. The program meets the coursework and experience requirements for the national certified health education specialist (CHES) exam.

Contact NCCU Online today to learn more about how a public health education degree can prepare you for a rewarding career as a public health nutritionist.

Recommended Readings

Health Promotion Specialist: Overview and How to Become

How Community Health Programs Promote Public Health

What Is a Health Educator?


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist”

American Journal of Public Health, “Public Health Nutrition Deserves More Attention”

British Dietetic Association, What Do Public Health Dietitians Do?

Indeed, “What Is a Public Health Nutritionist? Definition and Qualifications”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dietitians and Nutritionists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Education Specialists

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Public Health

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