The University of Southampton
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Dr Mary Barker BSc, MSc, PhD, C Psychol

Associate Professor in Psychology

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Dr Mary Barker is Associate Professor in Psychology within Medicine at the University of Southampton.

Previously, senior research officer with the Home Office Research and Planning Unit, and research fellow in the Faculty of Law, University of Bristol, Mary joined the MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton in 1994. She obtained her PhD in 1999 with a thesis on the factors influencing food choices of adolescent girls, and became a chartered psychologist in 2003.
Her main research interests are the food choices of young women and the complex of psychological, social and environmental factors that affect them and the food choices they make for their children. She is concerned with identifying ways to support women to improve their diets and lifestyles. Together with her colleague, Janis Baird, Mary leads on the Southampton Initiative for Health, a training intervention working with Sure Start Children’s Centre staff to improve the diets and physical activity levels of disadvantaged women and their families in Southampton.

Mary also has a general interest in the design and evaluation of behaviour change interventions, and in the application of behavioural science principles to clinical and public health practice. She teaches and publishes at the interface between psychology, nutrition, and epidemiology, and is an associate editor of Public Health Nutrition and of the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.


BSc Psychology, University of Southampton (1986)
MSc Environmental Psychology, University of Surrey (1988)
PhD University of Southampton (1999)

Appointments held

Senior lecturer in psychology, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton






Research interests

Mary’s role in the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (LEU) is primarily in the translation of research findings on the importance of developmental origins of health and disease into improvements in the health and well-being of young women and their children, and in supporting colleagues more generally in my capacity as a psychologist. She was instrumental in establishing the Food Choice Group at the MRC LEU, University of Southampton. The programme of work generated by this group has established that there are important psycho-social variables which act as steps on a causal pathway between women’s level of disadvantage and their quality of diet, on which the design of the Southampton Initiative for Health is based.

The Southampton Initiative for Health

The focus of Mary’s recent activity has been to prepare for and instigate a trial of an intervention to improve the diets and physical activity levels of disadvantaged women in Southampton – the SIH - co-lead with colleague, Janis Baird. This work is funded by the NIHR as part of SUHT’s Nutrition and Lifestyle Biomedical Research Unit, and has been show-cased at a meeting of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools across the country as an example of good practice in translational research. The SIH is essentially a training intervention intended to teach specific behaviour change skills to staff in Sure Start Children’s Centres working with women from disadvantaged backgrounds. These skills help staff support women to address these psycho-social factors and make changes to their diets and physical activity levels. The intervention is based on a conceptual model developed over the past five years from research in Southampton, of the likely process of behaviour change in women from disadvantaged backgrounds. The intervention is accompanied by a before and after, non-randomised controlled trial, evaluating changes in staff practice as a result of the training, changes in psycho-social indicators such as sense of control and well-being, and changes in women’s diets and physical activity levels. Final results of the trial are expected in the middle of 2012. Plans for the future of the SIH include assessing the impact of the intervention on the diets of children, re-defining and retargeting the intervention to improve the diets of infants, and applying the SIH approach in an intervention to improve diets of women and children served by the WIC programme in the state of Oregon, USA.

The application of behavioural science to clinical practice and public health

Mary is also involved in a number of research projects and collaborations in the MRC Unit, and across the University and beyond in her capacity as a psychologist. She is currently working as a consultant to the Nutrition and Lifestyle BRC, providing behaviour change expertise on a number of projects aimed to improve delivery of nutritional care to patients in the Trust’s hospitals. Within the MRC Unit, she provides psychological input into projects as and when required. She is also collaborating with the Oregon Research Institute in Oregon USA on a series of studies with the Oregon Research Institute, designed to reveal the barriers and constraints on food choices of women in poorer parts of Oregon, and has published with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health on their Mother and Child Cohort Study in Oslo. Plans for further intervention work are currently being explored with the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.
For more information on the MRC LEU, please visit


Academic unit(s)

Human Development and Health Academic Units

Affiliate academic unit(s)

Human development and physiology Research group

Postgraduate student supervision

2002 Ginny Chorghade PhD
2006 Joanna Woadden MSc Health Psychology
2007 Agnieszka Brenk MSc Health Psychology
2008 Megan Jarman MSc Public Health Nutrition
2010 Wendy Lawrence PhD


Megan Jarman PhD

Faculty of Medicine

Founder member of the Food Choice Group, a cross-disciplinary group set up at the University in 2005.
Co-leader of the Southampton Initiative for Health.
Past member of the Faculty’s Post Doctoral Association committee. Instrumental in establishing and evaluating the Faculty’s mentoring programme for post-doctoral staff.

University of Southampton

University representative on Southampton City Council’s chief executive’s group to address ways in which the City can work with the University to promote the health of Southampton.
Consultant on behaviour change to Southampton University Hospitals Trust NIHR BRU Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle.

National and International responsibilities

Advisor on food choice and behaviour change issues to the Foundation for a Lifetime, USA 2007 -
Member of Food Standards Agency’s food choice programme awards committee, 2008
Reviewer of grant applications for the Food Standards Agency, 2009
Reviewer of grant applications to the ESRC, 2009
Chartered member of the British Psychological Society 2003 -
Member of the Nutrition Society 2009 -
Member of the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine 2008 -
Member of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Society – 2009 –
Member of the Research Council of Norway research on public health panel 2011 -



Marking of critical appraisal final exam scripts
Assessor on social issues in medicine course

MSc Public Health Nutrition
Teaching on food choice concepts and applications
Training in qualitative research methods

MSc Health Psychology
Seminars on epidemiology, applications of developmental origins of health and disease, complex interventions to improve health behaviours

Inter-professional Learning
Past facilitator of IPL groups and marker of assessments

Dr Mary Barker
Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Building 85, Life Sciences Building, Highfield Campus, Southampton, SO171BJ

Room Number:SGH/MRC/MP95

Telephone:(023) 8077 7624
Facsimile:(023) 8070 4021

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