The Sunshine Project

The Sunshine Project

Participants at the Game session

Vitamin D is essential to bone health and overall good health, but one of the populations most vulnerable to insufficient intake, the elderly, are often ignorant about its benefits. A project initiated by an MPhil student has taken steps to correct that problem.

Mike Kwun-ting Cheung, a biostatistician by training, focused his MPhil in part on gauging the level of Vitamin D ignorance among the elderly. He learnt from a Hong Kong study that 90 per cent of adults living in residential care facilities had insufficient Vitamin D - the result of poor sunshine exposure, inadequate diet and the body's deteriorating ability to absorb the vitamin as it ages.

"My research showed there was a lack of knowledge about Vitamin D in the community and in care homes, and the behaviour was not that good," he said.

"I think that as a researcher I should apply what I learn to contribute to society. Once I knew there was funding available [through the Student Knowledge Exchange Project Grant Scheme] for a community project, I aimed to do something."

Working with two community centres for the elderly operated by S.K.H Carpenter Church and St James' Settlement, and with support from Dr Angela Yee-man Leung of the School of Nursing, Mike and fellow students Huen-sum Lam and Xia Nan organised two workshops at each centre to raise awareness about Vitamin D and encourage older adults to get more sunlight exposure in a safe manner.

Participants were separated into two groups based on their existing knowledge about Vitamin D, and each group received a tailored session of games, a video and a talk about Vitamin D, using materials developed by the students. Participants were also asked to take three friends for a walk outdoors to increase their sunshine exposure and report back after the second session within three weeks. Staff at the community centres encouraged and supported this peer walking exercise.

"We were trying to reach 'hidden adults' who may not get out much. They are in a similar situation to people in nursing homes who also did not have sufficient opportunity to go outdoors," he said.

Dr Leung said this train-the-trainers approach helped to multiply the benefits of the project and reach people who might not otherwise be accessible to researchers and social workers.

"This has been a good way to encourage students to really apply what they learn in their own studies and put it into practice in the community," she said.