NameProf Mary Barker
QualificationsBSc, MSc, PhD
RoleProfessor of Psychology and Behavioural Science
I am a chartered psychologist with experience of working in academic public health research and the public sector.
The focus of my work is the development and evaluation of behaviour change interventions designed to improve diet, physical activity and well-being. I am involved in the development and testing of a programme of complex behaviour change interventions to improve diet and body composition in population health settings in low, middle and high income countries. These primarily target adolescents and women of childbearing age, to translate findings from epidemiological and mechanistic studies of the developmental origins of health and disease into interventions to improve long-term health and well-being. These interventions offer the opportunity to test models of health behaviour, and have helped elucidate the psychological mechanisms that underlie behaviour change in young women.
Our team’s ‘Healthy Conversation Skills’ approach to improving diet and physical activity has been widely adopted in the UK as the delivery mechanism for the UK government’s ‘making every contact count’ agenda (http://www.wessexphnetwork.org.uk/mecc) and in large projects around the world, including the Healthy Start Workforce programme in New Zealand (http://www.healthystartworkforce.auckland.ac.nz/en.html) and the Healthy Lifecourse Trajectory Initiative (HeLTI) in Canada, South Africa, India and China (http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/49510.html). A Healthy Conversation Skills approach to improving public health was mentioned in the report of the WHO commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, has informed priority setting by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, was featured in the 2015 Chief Medical Officer for England’s annual report and is credited by the Royal Society for Public Health.
I received a BSc in Psychology from the University of Southampton in 1986 and an MSc in Environmental Psychology from the University of Surrey in 1988. My research interest at the time was in the relationship between offending behaviour and the physical environment and, as a consequence, was appointed Research Officer working for the UK government at the Home Office. This led to a period conducting research at the University of Bristol studying the development of sex offender treatment programmes in prisons and the probation service. I moved into health research following my appointment at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton in 1994. I completed my PhD in 1999 and have ever since carried out research aiming to identify ways of supporting young women to become better nourished, both for their own health and well-being and for the growth and long-term health of their babies. I was appointed Honorary Reader in Psychology, at the UCL Institute for Women’s Health in January 2017 and Visiting Professor at the University of Agder, Norway in 2018.