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A nutritionist's main role is to provide advice on matters relating to food and how it impacts health. Nutritionists may design, coordinate, implement and evaluate a range of population health interventions to improve the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the population as a whole, through better food and nutrition, says the Nutrition Society of Australia Inc. (NSA http://nsa.asn.au/). They may work in research, food technology or health promotion, as nutrition consultants, or media spokespeople. However, the NSA stresses nutritionists are not qualified to provide medical advice or medical nutrition therapy: this is the role of dietitians.

The minimum education qualification requirement for a nutritionist is a three-year Bachelor degree, such as the Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine) from ACNT, and the Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine) from Endeavour, both of which cover Public Health. Torrens University offers the Bachelor of Nutrition, which includes a Public Health elective stream that provides career prospects in health promotion and disease prevention. Because the term “nutritionist” is largely unregulated in Australia, the NSA has developed a voluntary Register of Nutritionists that recognises nutritionists with designated qualifications. Members abide by standards of professional conduct and the NSA Code of Ethics, and commit to ongoing training.

Protected by law

A dietitian provides all the services of a nutritionist as, once qualified, they automatically become Accredited Nutritionists. However, they also provide nutritional education and therapy for a greater range of diseases. Their qualifications allow them to work in hospitals, community or private practice and to prescribe dietary treatments for serious conditions, such as diabetes and cancers. Because no legal protection exists over the term “dietitian”, the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA https://daa.asn.au/) developed its stringent Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) credential, which is protected by law. It’s also the only credential recognised by the Australian government, Medicare, and private health funds. Only qualified practitioners who complete a tertiary-level course accredited by the DAA can use this title. These courses vary, and may include a five-year Bachelor degree, or a three-year Bachelor of Science degree followed by a one-to-two-year post-graduate Master’s degree in dietetic studies. The course incorporates supervised and assessed professional practice in public health nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and food-service management. APDs are committed to the DAA Code of Professional Conduct.

Public health nutrition, as defined by the World Health Organization, is any organised measure to promote health, prevent disease and prolong life. The focus of a public health nutritionist is to protect and improve public health, with a particular aim to reach vulnerable and high-risk community groups. An APD is qualified to work as a public health nutritionist; a qualified nutritionist with a Bachelor degree should also be qualified, but anyone wishing to work in this area should confirm that the course meets the requirements as the field relies on diverse approaches, including community engagement, policy development, research, and education.

Deakin University offers a three-year Bachelor of Public Health and Health Promotion degree designed to provide skills in industry-recognised competencies, including planning, communication, epidemiology, and research. Practical work placements further develop expertise. Graduates may become members of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and the Australiand Health Promotion Association (AHPA). Torrens University has a three-year full-time (two-year accelerated) Bachelor of Applied Public Health. Deakin also offers a Graduate Certificate of Public Health Nutrition, and a Master of Public Health. The NSA offers specialist registration in public health nutrition (RPHNutr) to those with appropriate expertise.