Being ahead of malnutrition is Harriët Jager-Wittenaar's mission. 'I want to realize a shift from the late recognition and treatment of present malnutrition to the identification and treatment of risk factors for impending malnutrition.' With the Chair of Dietetics and transmural nutritional care at Radboud university medical center, she wants to make great strides in this in the coming years. It is the second chair in dietetics in the Netherlands. This makes the Netherlands a European leader in research and innovation regarding dietetics and nutritional care.
Knowledge from practice
The research in the chair focuses on three themes. 'I want a stronger scientific evidence base for dietetic interventions. Thus carrying forward what we encounter in practice to scientific evidence and guidelines. But I also want knowledge from research to be transferred to patients, both in hospitals and in people's homes.'
In addition, Jager-Wittenaar, trained as a dietitian and working as a professor at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, wants more collaboration between different (healthcare) professionals. According to her, close consultation between different disciplines, from the doctor to the dietitian and other allied healthcare professionals, but also professionals from the social domain, is essential for the creation of a joint treatment plan. 'Precisely because the risk factors for malnutrition have so many different elements in them and thus require different expertise and interventions.'
The third theme is transmural nutritional care, from hospital to home. Her research is not just for the hospital. 'With my research, I want to show that interprofessional collaboration within the entire chain of care is effective for improving nutritional intake and nutritional status. In this way, we can prevent (severe) malnutrition. It also increases quality of life and the number of healthy life years, and has a positive impact on self-reliance and social participation.'
Focus on malnutrition
Malnutrition refers to a critical decrease in weight and especially muscle mass due to reduced nutritional intake. The result is deterioration in physical function, a less functioning immune system, reduced ability to recover and poorer cognitive functions. Jager-Wittenaar encountered a lot of malnutrition while working as a dietitian in the UMCG. There, she treated many people with tumors in the head and neck area that made eating difficult. "Swallowing, chewing, smelling, all those kinds of things were very difficult for these patients. She was drawn to scientific research on this. 'I discovered that I could optimize care around the patient by doing research.'
In recent years, Jager-Wittenaar has studied malnutrition in older adults and the ill from various perspectives. She concluded that malnutrition is regularly noticed very late. This has to change, she believes. There are risk factors for malnutrition, such as fatigue, decreased appetite and swallowing problems, but also social factors such as economic circumstances and the absence of informal care or a social safety net, which can be treated at an early stage. As far as she is concerned, there should be more focus on this.
Dutch Association of Dietitians
The chair is made possible in part by NVD, the Dutch Association of Dietitians. President of NVD Mirjam van der Laan: 'We are very pleased with the appointment of Harriët Jager-Wittenaar as extraordinary professor of Dietetics and transmural nutritional care. This appointment connects closely with the vision of the NVD, 'The Dietitian and Dietetics in 2030'. In this vision, scientific research plays a crucial role to further optimize the quality and effectiveness of dietetics. It is our mission to secure good nutritional care within the medical treatment and to prevent diseases. The domain of the dietitian is the triangle between nutritional knowledge, medical knowledge and knowledge of behavior and to translate that knowledge into practice.'
Harriët Jager-Wittenaar (Hoogezand-Sappemeer, 1974) studied Nutrition and Dietetics at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, in Groningen. She worked as a dietitian at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) from 1997 to 2011. Here, she obtained her PhD in 2010 on research into malnutrition in patients with head and neck cancer (title thesis: Pre-and post-treatment malnutrition in head and neck cancer patients). She continues to work part-time as professor of Malnutrition and Healthy Ageing at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, where she has been affiliated since 2011. The chair starts September 1, 2023 and is for a period of three years.