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Journal Article

The Public Health Nutrition Workforce and its Future Challenges: the US Experience

By Haughton B, George A


Objectives: To describe the US public health nutrition workforce and its future social, biological and fiscal challenges.

Design: Literature review primarily for the four workforce surveys conducted since 1985 by the Association of State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors.

Setting: The United States.

Subjects: Nutrition personnel working in governmental health agencies. The 1985 and 1987 subjects were personnel in full-time budgeted positions employed in governmental health agencies providing predominantly population-based services. In 1994 and 1999 subjects were both full-time and part-time, employed in or funded by governmental health agencies, and provided both direct-care and population-based services.

Results: The workforce primarily focuses on direct-care services for pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and children. The US Department of Agriculture funds 81.7 % of full-time equivalent positions, primarily through the WIC Program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). Of those personnel working in WIC, 45 % have at least 10 years of experience compared to over 65 % of the non-WIC workforce. Continuing education needs of the WIC and non-WIC workforces differ. The workforce is increasingly more racially/ethnically diverse and with 18.2 % speaking Spanish as a second language.

Conclusions: The future workforce will need to focus on increasing its diversity and cultural competence, and likely will need to address retirement within leadership positions. Little is known about the workforce’s capacity to address the needs of the elderly, emergency preparedness and behavioural interventions. Fiscal challenges will require evidence-based practice demonstrating both costs and impact. Little is known about the broader public health nutrition workforce beyond governmental health agencies.


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Date Added
March 16, 2018

Haughton B, George A (2008) The Public Health Nutrition Workforce and its Future Challenges: the US Experience. Public Health Nutrition: Vol. 11, Issue 8, pp. 782-791. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980008001821