IrSPEN Prize for Best Undergraduate Research Project 2019

IrSPEN Prize for Best Undergraduate Research Project 2019

IrSPEN Prize for Best Undergraduate Research Project in Human Nutrition and Dietetics TCD/DIT Joint Degree 2019


My name is Maria Fortune. I graduated the Human Nutrition and Dietetics course (BSc) 2019 with a First Class Honours. I was awarded the IrSPEN prize for Best Overall Research Project 2019 for my undergraduate study on vitamin D and falls in older adults.

Who you are?

From a young age, I always had an interest in food, health and well-being. My favourite subject’s in secondary school were Home Economics and Biology. Dietetics seemed a good match for my interest when I understood the very important role a nutritious diet has in promoting good health for all. Through my Practice Placements, in St. Luke’s Hospital, Dublin, Mayo Community, Mayo University Hospital and Tallaght University Hospital my passion for Dietetics grew from strength to strength. Working with people to provide individualised patient-centred nutritional advice is something I thoroughly enjoy and find very rewarding.

I graduated on October 19th 2019 and received:

  • The Irish Nutrition & Dietetics Institute Award for Highest overall marks over 4 years of the Human Nutrition and Dietetics programme
  • The Yakult Award (Joint winner) for Highest Final Year Marks
  • The Student Excellence Award for the College of Sciences and Health
  • The IrSPEN award for Best Undergraduate Research Project – Human Nutrition and Dietetics degree.

My interest in research developed over the four years I participated in the Dietetics programme. Dietetics practice is rooted in an evidence-based foundation. Nutrition and Dietetic research is fundamental for the creation of best-practice guidelines, provision of accurate nutritional advice and for tailoring public policy. This research is dynamic and ever-changing. Therefore, it is important as Healthcare professionals we are constantly keeping up to date with current research and its implications for best practice.

I am delighted to have recently qualified as a Dietitian. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my friends, family and lecturers alike to whom I am very grateful. Although the course was challenging and a rocky road at times, I thoroughly enjoyed my four years, made some wonderful life-long friends and can now say it was worth it. Looking forward, I’m excited at what the future brings as a newly qualified Dietitian.

Undergraduate Project

Under supervision of Associate Professor Maria O’ Sullivan, I carried out a mixed method study (systematic review and qualitative research) to determine whether vitamin D supplementation reduces falls outcomes in socioeconomically vulnerable, community dwelling, older adults. The results demonstrated that the majority of vitamin D and falls randomised controlled trials in community dwelling older adults do not consider (either in recruitment or analysis) the proportion of socioeconomically vulnerable, vitamin D deficient or vitamin D insufficient participants. Interestingly, this study’s findings demonstrate a statistically significant reduction in falls when trials recruited a vitamin D insufficient/ deficient cohort & when >3 of the 6 studied determinants of socioeconomic vulnerability were considered. This study supports the use and development of better/ novel recruitment methods with primary focus of targeting ‘at risk’ population subgroups likely to benefit from intervention in future trials. Additionally, by qualitative analysis, motivations why older adults participated in vitamin D trials was studied. This knowledge is valuable in guiding future potential study design. Although expert bodies currently do not recommend vitamin D supplementation as a means to prevent falls across all community dwelling older adults – perhaps a Public Health recommendation should be considered for vulnerable ‘at risk’ population subgroups in the future. More research supporting the benefits of vitamin D in socioeconomically vulnerable subgroups is warranted.