Nutritional epidemiologists play a crucial role in maintaining the health of individuals and populations. These professionals research the links between nutrition and chronic diseases, develop strategies to promote healthful eating, and monitor whether populations have significant nutritional concerns. Those who are interested in pursuing this field might consider a range of graduate degrees. Read on for more information about three potential graduate degrees in this field and some coursework that students may encounter.
Master of Science
One option for students interested in pursuing nutritional epidemiology is to earn a Master of Science (M.S.) degree. M.S. options available for those in this field might include nutrition, nutritional sciences, nutrition data science, and nutrition interventions. The program of study can require about 30-48 credit hours to complete. Students take core courses in biostatistics, research, and epidemiology, and then focus upon an area of nutrition science. Some programs may require the completion of a master's thesis. It may be possible to combine studies in this program with an internship to be qualified as a registered dietician. Applicants should expect to provide transcripts, recommendations, GRE scores, a resume, and a personal statement. Undergraduate coursework in the natural sciences may be required.
Master of Public Health
Earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a focus in public health nutrition is another option for those interested in nutritional epidemiology. In this program, students will take core public health classes and then pursue a focus on public health nutrition. It can typically be completed in two years of study. Students may be able to complete additional courses and an internship in order to pursue certification as a registered dietician. MPH applicants typically apply through SOPHAS, the Schools of Public Health Admissions Service. Candidates should expect to provide transcripts, a personal statement, and recommendations. Some programs will require applicants to provide the results of GRE exams. Undergraduate coursework in biology, chemistry, and calculus may be preferred. Work experience in the field could be helpful in the application process.
Doctor of Philosophy
Those who wish to pursue research careers or teach at the university level might consider earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in nutrition or nutritional sciences. Within a Ph.D. program, students will engage in a core curriculum and select electives which hone their knowledge of nutritional epidemiology. They are typically also required to take preliminary examinations and prepare and defend a dissertation. Other evidence of scholarship, such as participation in journals or professional presentations, is a usual component to Ph.D. programs. To apply, students should hold a bachelor's degree. A major or significant undergraduate coursework in the sciences is expected. Those who are submitting applications might expect to provide transcripts, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, and recommendations. Many programs require application through SOPHAS.
In any of the above-referenced degrees, students will take a range of core courses designed to introduce them to key research and public health concerns. Once these core courses like those described below are completed, students can choose from a range of courses specific to their interest in nutritional epidemiology.
This course could provide students with a background in conducting or interpreting epidemiologic data and studies directly related to diet and nutrition. The current state of knowledge and the methodology involved in conducting such epidemiological studies may be considered. Specific current issues that might be considered include the epidemiology of obesity, how diet contributes to chronic disease, or factors involved in the use of sodium.
A course in social epidemiology is likely to provide a foundation in the methods, theories, and measurement approaches used to determine population health. Students in this course may focus upon how individual interactions with social factors are relevant to health outcomes. In addition, prevention mechanisms could be a topic of concern.
Community Nutrition Education and Intervention
Those practicing nutritional epidemiology may conduct educational and interventional programs within communities. This course may provide a framework to identify community nutritional needs, analyze the concerns, and develop an educational or interventional approach to solving the problems. In addition, the creation of materials to help promote nutritional education within the community might be reviewed.
Professionals in this area must be familiar with federal and state laws, policies and regulations regarding food. This course may consider the impact of this legislation on food safety and nutritional assistance programs. How these policies affect the way those in the United States eat could also be considered.
Epidemiological nutrition intervention is a worldwide concern. A course in global nutrition could provide an overview of international nutrition concerns, including food insecurity, population growth as it relates to nutrition, and the relationship of disease to nutrition. The UNICEF malnutrition framework may be a topic of consideration. Possible interventions for these concerns might be studied.
Child Nutrition and Malnutrition
This course may discuss how nutrition can affect development from the prenatal period through adolescence. Students could review placental nutrition, breastfeeding, micronutrients, and the effect of nutrition on the onset of puberty. In addition, the causes of child malnutrition both in the U.S. and in developing countries may be considered.
Many options at the master's and doctoral levels are available for graduate students who desire to enter the field of nutritional epidemiology. An undergraduate background in the sciences may be expected, or prerequisites might need to be completed.