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Nutrition Education Programs Nurture Healthier Communities

By on January 24, 2018 in ACU Programs with 0 Comments

mid-adult Caucasian female volunteer serves food at local food kitchen. Volunteers are serving people in line in the background. The woman has long brown hair and is wearing a blue apron.

Nutritionists play an important role in the community, and their contributions to society are only going to become more critical as our nation’s approach to health care shifts to become more proactive.

ACU’s master of science in nutrition program prepares students for many types of positions in the medical, education, and food services fields. Community-oriented health organizations, though, are often an ideal fit for students attracted to ACU’s Christian values.  Our graduate nutrition program puts a special focus on helping impoverished individuals and communities.

Nutrition and Disease: The Need for Education

Nationwide, there’s a need for better nutrition education. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that nutrition is a recognized determinant in three of the four leading causes of death in the United States, including heart disease. The journal article advocates for more nutrition education for health care providers across the board. The Centers for Disease Control states that more than one third of U.S. adults are obese, a factor linked to many life-threatening diseases, such as diabetes.

Also, a report from PwC’s Health Research Institute reveals a shift toward value-based care is one of 2017’s top health care concerns. PwC says this shift could entail new policies and billing models. On a broader scale, though, it means focusing on population health to decrease overall health care costs. But it’s not just for health reasons; hunger can impact a child’s performance in school, an adult’s workplace contributions.

For these reasons and more, medical practices and public health organizations are placing more emphasis on nutrition education. Since diet can greatly impact an individual’s medical expenses, providing wellness advice can improve health and lower costs one patient at a time. Often, this can be done based on geography—the needs of a specific region—hence the growing need for community dieticians and community nutritionists.

The Demand for Nutritionists in Communities of Need

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nutritionists and dieticians, overall, is projected to grow 14 percent through 2026, which is faster than the average occupation growth. This includes nutritionists working in community, clinical, or corporate environments. While the BLS data doesn’t break down the demand by type of nutritionist, we can glean from other stats and research shared in this post that a lot of this demand is found in communities in need. It’s important to also note community health educators and workers, a related career path, is also expected to grow much faster than average, at 16 percent.

Poorer communities, whether urban or rural, are home to residents experiencing inadequate nutrition. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that in 2016, one in eight Americans were food insecure. USDA defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.” USDA and its partner programs, as well as hospitals, medical clinics, and other nonprofits work to fight these challenges.

Nutrition educators are a big part of these efforts, both behind the scenes and on the front lines. Community nutritionists, also sometimes called public health nutritionists, work to improve eating habits and well-being of a community at large, versus working regularly with an individual. They may help identify issues and develop programs and policies that help improve public health.

Today, many families must choose between paying rent or buying groceries. Nutrition education can help people, even those on the tightest of budgets, make smarter choices at the grocery store.

Nutrition Across Nations: Improving Global Health

Nutrition educators trained in the U.S. may often be inspired to use their knowledge abroad. Many developing nations are experiencing food shortages, sometimes due to natural disaster or war. Malnutrition is life-threatening, and many global advocacy organizations are doing their part. For example, Gain, or The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, is a UN program that works to provide education, food staples, and vitamins primarily in at-risk areas in Africa and Asia. Much of Gain’s focus is placed on pregnant mothers, infants and small children, as proper nutrition is critical to growth and development.

A proper diet (and the right amount of physical activity) can prevent or lower the risk of certain diseases. Eating better has other benefits, too, such as higher academic and job performance and an overall sense of well-being. But, often, where someone lives, who they live with, how much they earn, and what resources they have available can affect their ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. Community nutritionists strive to change that through education and access.


Want to help make communities healthier? A career as a nutritionist focusing in education may interest you. Contact ACU to learn more about our online MS in Nutrition.

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