Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major Professor

Betsy Haughton

Committee Members

Eugene Fitzhugh, Charles Hamilton, Lisa Jahns


Objective Because the public health nutrition workforce may be in a state of transition, this study had three purposes: 1) describe the US public health nutrition workforce; 2) examine a new position class, breastfeeding peer counselor; and 3) determine if retirement intention of public health nutrition personnel can be predicted based on personal and workplace factors.

Methods Secondary data analysis of the national research dataset of the 2006-07 Public Health Nutrition Workforce Survey was conducted (n=10,683, response rate 80.0% for overall survey; research dataset n=9,923). Subjects were personnel in nutrition professional/paraprofessional positions working in nutrition programs under the purview of the official health agency and who agreed to release their data for research purposes.

Results Over one-quarter (28.0%) of respondents were in positions with a population/systems focus, while 67.5% were in client-focused, direct care positions. Two-thirds (67.0%) practiced primarily in the core public health function of assurance. Approximately 10% (11.3%) of personnel were breastfeeding peer counselors. The majority (52.6%) of breastfeeding peer counselor positions were part-time and 20.3% were contracted. Nearly half (42.0%) did not receive employee benefits. Close to one-quarter (23.9%) of the overall workforce intended to retire within 10 years. There were significant differences in both personal and workplace factors for intention to retire for personnel 45 years and older. Age category, years of experience in nutrition/dietetics and public health nutrition, agency of employment, vacation and retirement employee benefits, percent of work time spent in direct client services, full-time/part-time status, and US DHHS Region correctly predicted retirement intention 75.0% of the time.

Conclusions The majority of respondents worked in client-focused positions which could indicate a potentially inadequate proportion of personnel available for assuring population health. Breastfeeding peer counselors constitute a noteworthy proportion of the overall workforce. That many positions are part-time or contracted and do not receive employee benefits could indicate inadequate funding for this position class. ‘Graying’ of the public health nutrition workforce appears to be an important concern. Results can be used to evaluate organizational characteristics for workforce succession planning and forecasting.

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