As the emphasis on lifestyle and health grows, so does the need for more extensive knowledge about human nutrition.
By making lifestyle adjustments, people learn how to prevent health problems and avoid a lot of costly medical intervention. Nutritionists are playing an increasingly important part in developing a healthy society.
The human nutrition major in Massey's Bachelor of Science is one pathway into a nutritionist's career. The three-year degree covers subjects such as the composition of food, human nutritional requirements, how the body processes food and nutrients, the physiological changes resulting from excesses or deficiencies of nutrients in the diet, and the changes in nutritional needs at different life stages.
The major also includes practical training in areas such as dietary assessment. Each single semester paper requires 12 1/2 hours of study per week, which includes two hours of lectures and a two or three-hour workshop lab. As most students do four papers this involves a 50-hour per week commitment.
Some students combine human nutrition with another major over their three years of study. A popular combination is human nutrition with sport and exercise science.
Applicants must have NCEA university entrance, including level three chemistry, biology and maths passes.
However, people who haven't studied chemistry or biology to NCEA level three can enrol in Massey's extramural introductory chemistry and biology papers between November and February. Successful completion of those papers will open up entry.
The course begins at the end of February. There is no mid-year intake because students have to pass the first semester papers before they can pick up many of the second semester papers.
At present, one full-time year of eight papers costs $3723.
Human nutritionist graduates find work in organisations such as Crown Research Institutes, the dairy industry and other food-related companies. There is also scope for roles in the public health sector.
What graduates think
Fiona Greig, 26, Nutritionist New Zealand Beef and Lamb Marketing Bureau
Graduated in April 2004 with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Human Nutrition from Massey University
My job at the New Zealand Beef and Lamb Marketing Bureau is varied and enjoyable. I have been involved with developing resources and promotional material, which are distributed to health professionals (eg plunket nurses), consumers and retailers.
I also assist with a number of marketing activities involved with the generic promotion of beef and lamb in New Zealand.
Other day-to-day activities include answering enquiries on the nutritional properties of red meat, ensuring our website is up-to-date and accurate, and providing feedback on various nutrition-based and marketing documents.
I was interested in working with the bureau because I had taken some marketing papers within the degree and remembered the impactful campaigns they had run in the past. I also had an interest in the role the food industry played.
I chose to study nutrition because I have always had a strong interest in the health, nutrition and fitness industries. I had a medical working background and was passionate about learning about the human body and how it works when functioning optimally, in particular how eating good food contributes to general well-being.
I wanted to know more than just what foods are good for you. I wanted to know why and what exactly the functions of the various nutrients were, and then to educate others on the benefits.
The degree has helped me to be critical - to analyse research and data without assuming it is accurate. Both the practical and theoretical aspects of the course have allowed me to approach my projects methodically. I also learned how to communicate complex scientific information to the general public.
What employers think
Fiona Carruthers, New Zealand Beef and Lamb Marketing Bureau Nutrition Manager
The bureau employs qualified nutritionists and dietitians to ensure all its promotional activities are based on sound science. The bureau has an experienced dietitian in the team, so a newly qualified nutritionist complements our existing skills.
Fiona has a good basic knowledge of current nutrition science and research, which is so valuable to our organisation. This can be applied appropriately to the consumer when working alongside experienced nutrition and marketing personnel.
Qualifications Bachelor of Science (Human Nutrition) - Massey University.
Ph 0800 627 739 or (09) 443 9735 or visit the Massey University website (see link below).
Special requirements: NCEA Level 3 (or equivalent) chemistry and biology. Starting salaries range from $29,000-$39,000 depending on role, eg food industry pays more than public health or gyms.