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It may be a surprise to learn that in Illinois, almost anyone can give professional nutrition advice without a license. What unlicensed practitioners cannot do, however, is call themselves a Licensed Dietitian (LD) or a Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN). Those titles are tied to specific credentials that are legally protected. It is essential for both consumers and professionals working in foods and nutrition to understand who needs a license to call themselves a dietitian in the state of Illinois.
The Illinois Dietitian Nutritionist Practice Act describes a wide range of services that fall under the umbrella of dietetics and nutrition. These services are defined as “the integration and application of principles derived from the science of food and nutrition to provide for all aspects of nutrition care for individuals and groups” (225 ILCS 30/10). The statute goes on to list the different services that may be considered part of dietetics and nutrition, including nutrition education, counseling and assessment, offering medically prescribed diets, medical nutrition therapy, and restorative services, which focus on oral dietary needs, metabolism, and dietary supplements (225 ILCS 30/10).
Those providing these services may obtain a range of different credentials to demonstrate their expertise in a given area. For example, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is considered the top nutrition expert in the field of dietetics and nutrition. Those who want to work in foods and nutrition in the health care industry, in particular, must usually obtain an RDN credential. In Illinois, to do so requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program in subject areas such as human nutrition, foods and nutrition, dietetics, food systems management, nutrition education, nutrition, nutrition science, clinical nutrition, applied clinical nutrition, nutrition counseling, nutrition and functional medicine, nutrition and integrative health, or an equivalent major course of study approved by the Department (225 ILCS 30/45). Once the education requirement has been satisfied, candidates must then pass a nationally administered board exam and complete a specific amount of supervised practice experience.
In Illinois, to obtain an RDN credential, candidates must also be licensed to practice as Licensed Dietitian Nutritionists (LDN). An LDN is different from an RDN in that it is a state designation, while an RDN is a credential earned from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), a national oversight organization. While the current requirements for a state LDN license are the same as those described for an RDN, that is scheduled to change. Starting in 2024, the CDR will require individuals wanting an RDN credential to first earn a minimum of a master’s degree to qualify for the credentialing exam. This additional requirement will widen the distinction between the state and national designations unless state lawmakers decide to amend current regulations.
It is possible to obtain a license as an LDN without the RDN credential, and for some careers in dietetics and nutrition, that may be all that is required. Under state law, individuals working in foods and nutrition do not technically need to have a license. They simply cannot use the credentials of an LDN or RDN. While the titles vary, many of these individuals use the term “nutritionist” to describe their services. To become a nutritionist, there are no education or training requirements. Even those with little or no background in dietetics and nutrition could legally use the title. Illinois state law exempts from licensure individuals who are employed by the federal government, anyone currently enrolled in a course of study in the field, educators employed by nonprofit organizations, those with advanced degrees in the field, and individuals offering nutrition advice as an employee of a facility “operated exclusively by and for those relying upon spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination” (225 ILCS 30/20).
While many outside of the profession may not know the difference, when it comes to regulation, there is a big difference between a licensed dietician and a nutritionist. As a consumer and even as professionals working in foods and nutrition, it is important to check the credentials before hiring anyone advertising themselves as an expert. Despite the fact that by law, only persons issued a license may use titles like “dietitian nutritionist,” “dietitian,” “licensed nutritionist,” or “nutrition counselor,” or the letters “L.D.N.” in connection with his or her name, it is important to verify any such claims with the licensing Department.
If you are a licensee and are being investigated by IDFPR, consult with a lawyer experienced in dealing with IDFPR enforcement actions. Jordan Matyas is an Illinois attorney who represents individuals and businesses licensed by IDFPR.
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