It’s about making a week of awareness into a daily practice.

University of New Mexico Nutrition and Dietetics professors Diana Gonzales-Pacheco and Debbie Luffey are fighting against malnutrition in New Mexico.

Malnutrition is defined as a situation in which the body doesn't get enough nutrients, vitamins or minerals. Often stemming from hunger, the imbalance can also also come from a poor diet, digestive conditions, or issues absorbing nutrients.

Malnutrition Awareness Week was launched by The American Society of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN) in 2012. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued her own proclamation for New Mexico for Sept. 19-23 of this year.

That was thanks to the collaborative efforts of Gonzales-Pacheco and Luffey within the New Mexico Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Awareness, they say, is not just informing vulnerable New Mexicans, like hospitalized patients, older adults, and people of color. It’s important to address the role of the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in addressing malnutrition, to improve the nutritional status of high-risk populations.

Still, helping the 1 in 8 people, and 1 in 5 children facing hunger takes more than awareness. Malnutrition costs New Mexico an additional $92.5 million each year due to malnutrition-associated consequences. Both faculty members say it has to start with action in the classroom.

Debbie Luffey

In teaching Human Nutrition courses for health careers majors, Luffey addresses the impact of malnutrition related to health outcomes to future New Mexico health care providers.

"I feel that teaching nutrition to undergraduate students, who are the future health care professionals for our state, is important to improving both nutrition outcomes and overall health for New Mexico,” Luffey said. The education they receive now will translate into health care professionals who recognize the role of nutrition in many aspects of health and wellness."

Diana Gonzales-Pacheco

Gonzales-Pacheco, as the assistant director of the UNM Dietetic Internship Program, is a strong advocate for promoting the role of the RDN in malnutrition awareness in both the dietetic internship process as well as a Faculty Champion in the UNM Interprofessional Education program. 

"It is my belief that identification, treatment, and prevention of malnutrition will help address health disparities experienced by people of color. We are training our dietetic interns to become skilled in assessing malnutrition using a variety of clinical tools, including the Nutrition Focused Physical Exam (NFPE), with the overall goal of improved patient outcomes,” she said.

 These UNM faculty members are working to ensure that UNM students, as future health care providers and RDNs in the state, play a role addressing this preventable condition to improve patient health outcomes and the health of New Mexicans.

Learn more about the mission of the Nutrition and Dietetics Department on the College of Education and Human Science’s website.