Healthy Living

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Our Experts In Healthy Living

Professor Margaret (Greta) Defeyter

Professor Greta Defeyter BSc (Hons) CPsychol FRSA FHEA FBPsS PhD

Greta has been at Northumbria University since 2003.The Healthy Living Lab is a multi-disciplinary lab and includes over 20 academic colleagues from disciplines ranging from health economics, nutrition, psychology, social work, sociology, sports science, sports psychology, and law. Her current research interests are in food poverty, holiday hunger and food insecurity. She has received funding from the ESRC, the British Academy, the Wellcome Trust, and the Big Lottery, and funding from local authorities, charities and industry. She has published extensively on school breakfast clubs and is Guest Editor of ‘The impact of food consumption on children’s cognition, educational attainment and social development’. In 2015, she published the first evaluation of holiday breakfast clubs and in 2016 published a paper based on the Meals & More programme. She is now a recognised expert in this area and so is in demand around the world. In 2015, she was made a Fellow from the British Psychological Society. More recently, she won a Food Heroes Award (Sustain, 2016) for her research and evaluations on school breakfast clubs and holiday hunger. In 2017, the Healthy Living Lab won the British Psychology Public Engagement Award (North East) for knowledge exchange. She currently supervises a number of PhD student’s, and research assistants conducting research projects on holiday hunger, school breakfast provision, physical activity, and attachment.

Professor Defeyter is one of the first and notable developmental psychologists, within the UK, to conduct innovative research in this area. The application of developmental psychological theory, combined with collaboration with academics from Education, Health, Social Work, and Nutrition and practitioners clearly demonstrates her commitment to translational research. Indeed research findings from Professor Defeyter’s lab have resulted in improved educational outcomes and quality of life (social deprivation, food poverty and behaviours) for thousands of children in the UK.

Professor Defeyter’s research programme consists of a number of studies that have investigated the effects of GI (Glycaemic Index) on children’s cognitive performance; the effect of breakfast club attendance on children’s behaviour, cognition and social friendships; and children’s perceptions of portion sizes. Studies investigating the effects of breakfast consumption have primarily focussed on nutritional and academic outcomes and only a few studies have systematically examined the impact of breakfast on a range of cognitive measures. Even fewer studies have investigated the effect of breakfasts that differ in terms of nutritional composition. Early work conducted in her lab demonstrated that the actual composition of breakfast effects children’s subsequent performance on tasks measuring memory and attention (Ingwersen, Defeyter, Kennedy & Scholey, 2007).
Recently Professor Defeyter has begun to investigate the impact of school holidays on children’s health, wellbeing and educational attainment. This work has received significant interest, both nationally and internationally. She is currently supervising two PhD students and two research assistants in this area and was one of the first academics to publish peer-reviewed papers on holiday hunger.

As an esteemed academic in this field, Professor Defeyter advises a number of national governmental and international committees, including her role as key academic advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, providing guidance and advice to the twenty-five strong MPs and Lords group. This advisory role has also seen Professor Defeyter providing a significant contribution to a number of government position papers; e.g. ‘Health and Well Being Boards’ published in January 2013; a White Paper “Holiday Hunger” in March 2014, and an APPG Hunger Inquiry into Hungry Holidays (A report on hunger amongst children during school holidays). Professor Defeyter is a sitting member and academic advisor to The European School Breakfast Club Committee (Brussels); an industry-led Breakfast Club Steering Group; The British Food and Drinking Group; the North East Child Poverty Commission; and the National Charity Chefs Adopt a School). Her proactive membership of these organisations, parliamentary committees and special interest groups, has directly affected public policy-making.

Her research findings have also been presented in the Westminster Parliamentary Newsletter (17/07/08), at the Parliamentary Food and Health Forum (23/03/2010), and the House of Lords (September, 2008; February, 2009). The programme of research has also been widely disseminated to academics, businesses and the public through a number of conference presentations. For example, as an invited speaker at the National Nutrition and Health Conference and an invited speaker for the Vitafoods International Conference, and the Institute of Local Governance. Professor Defeyter has received a significant amount of national and international press coverage and interest, resulting in increased public awareness and knowledge of her underpinning research (e.g. BBC News 24, BBC Breakfast, Look North, Tyne Tees, Complete Nutrition (Australian Edition), Eating Well Magazine (USA), Dieticians Magazine, Dietetics Today, Scientific America, and have disseminated to local education authorities, at a National level, through the Connexions direct website (01/12/2008), and TES Direct (27/03/2009).

Professor Defeyter has organised and hosted a number of international conferences including an international and prestigious ESRC Knowledge Exchange Conference on School Breakfast Clubs: Research, Policy and Practice. This event was co-funded by the ESRC, Kellogg’s and ContinYou (a National Charity) and the opening address was given by Ann Milton, Parliamentary under Secretary for Public Health. Delegates included MPs; businesses, charity workers; teachers; the Food Standards Agency; Public Health North East; national and international academics, and representatives from Regional Councils. The overarching aim of the conference was to secure awareness of the importance of children’s nutrition in relation to their cognitive and social development and in light of this ensure that breakfast club provision exists in schools throughout the UK and resulted in a significant increase of new school breakfast clubs and being invited to a multi-disciplinary workshop in Brussels (2014). Currently Professor Defeyter’s lab is offering free online training to over four hundred school teachers and staff on school breakfast clubs. Professor Defeyter has engaged in a significant amount of public engagement regarding the association between nutrition and cognitive performance and psychological wellbeing; including, two exhibitions at the British Science Festival (September, 2013) and a five month exhibition at the International Centre for Life. Currently Professor Defeyter is co-investigator and academic advisor on a Wellcome Trust Grant with the International Centre for Life to develop an innovative exhibit on ‘Brain, Mind, and Culture.’

Recently, Professor Defeyter’s evaluation of one of the largest city-wide free breakfast projects in the UK demonstrated original application of psychological findings regarding children’s and parents attitudes and behaviours towards the development of Blackpool’s free schools breakfast club programme. Based on these findings and recommendations, Blackpool Council and Blackpool Public Health funded a £1.3m scheme to provide a nutritious breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and bread to all of its 12,000 primary pupils. Ongoing research has shown gains in primary school children’s educational attainment, behaviours and nutritional profiles and an increased awareness in households about many positive benefits of breakfast consumption. This research has subsequently been presented to the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food (October 2013) and the BPS North East of England Branch Conference (September, 2014).

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