Professor Maria Bryant


Professor of Public Health Nutrition

Role at Hull York Medical School

My work includes a broad portfolio of obesity, food and nutrition research which spans across multiple systems. This encompasses evaluation of system wide upstream interventions, trials of obesity prevention programmes delivered at scale and implementation research.

A focus of my work is with the design and delivery of evaluations for public health interventions. With this, I utilise my background in clinical trials to consider innovative methods for complex systems evaluations which are ethical and feasible, whilst ensuring minimal bias. My specific topic expertise is within lifestyle and non-communicable disease, particularly related to childhood obesity and dietary health.

I am passionate about partnership working and am dedicated to ensuring meaningful engagement in all aspects of her work. Thus, I always work closely with key stakeholders and beneficiaries across the life of each project and have established strong relationships with local and national government, community leaders in early years and school settings, and members of the public.


I am a nutritionist with over 20 years’ experience in the design and delivery of trials and related methodological research in the field of diet and obesity, with a special interest in early years and childhood. In addition to my academic role at the University of York where I lead the Public Health Nutrition Research Group, I am the Director of Nutrition Research for Born in Bradford, the lead for Diet and Obesity evaluation for a Better Start Bradford and the evaluation Chair of ‘ActEarly’, a MRC funded project aiming to promote a healthier, happier, and fairer future for children.


I lead and support a number of research projects, with funding from multiple sources, including the NIHR, Nuffield Foundation, UKRI, MRC, industry and the Big Lottery. The primary focus of this work is to develop and evaluate public health interventions that have a potential to impact on children and families, particularly those that address inequalities.

I am a methodologist, with a background in nutritionist and expertise in obesity. Thus, many of my projects involve evaluation design and delivery in these areas. Projects that I am currently delivering are summarised below:

  • 2023-2025 Chief Investigator (Joint): What are the most beneficial models used by community food assets to prevent the need for emergency food aid? A longitudinal qualitative study conducted in two multi-cultural populations in the North and South of England. NIHR PHR

  • 2023-2025 Co-applicant: Free School Meals, Diet Quality and Food Insecurity in Secondary School Pupils: a Mixed Methods Study. Lead: J Woodside. NIHR PHR

  • 2022-2023 Co-applicant: IDF (Internally Distributed Funding) Acceptability and potential impact of the CONNECTS Food website resource designed to support schools adopt whole school approaches to food

  • 2022-2023 Co-Investigator: Transforming UK Food Systems -Catalysing effective public engagement to transform the UK food system through British Science Week

  • 2022-2027 Chief Investigator: Evaluation of a sustainable obesity prevention programme delivered at scale ‘HENRY’ (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young): Effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and its role in obesity prevention within the wider complex system. NIHR PHR.

  • 2022-2022     Co-investigator: Regenerative healthy eating in children; Food system impact and change. Internal funding via Research England.

  • 'Fix Our Food'; Transformations to Regenerative Food Systems: Co-creation of regenerative food systems towards one that optimises health and the environment (Co-investigator (Work Package lead)). UKRI

  • Holidays Activities and Food (HAF) programme evaluation. Collaboration between the Food Foundation and Fix Our Food (Co-investigator (evaluation lead)).

  • System wide influences on food choice within primary schools in the UK: Co-design of an implementation plan to maximise the impact of whole school approaches to food (Chief Investigator). MRC PHIND

  • Understanding the impact of covid-19 on pregnant women and new parents: The Born in Bradford 2020 Families Study (Co-investigator). UKRI

  • Air pollution, outdoor air quality and health (Co-Investigator (Lead for implementation evaluation)). NIHR PHR 18/14

  • Peer2Peer: understanding ‘Raised in Yorkshire’: understanding its influence on health and life opportunities. (Named collaborator). Oral Health-White Rose Consortium (OH-WRC) (Sheffield and York).

  • Influence of attendance at weight management interventions on offspring: WWChild feasibility study Chief Investigator:. WWInt. ON-HOLD.

  • Better Start Bradford phase II Innovation Hub: Improving life chances of babies and children; to improve social and emotional development, nutrition, language and communication development; and to enact a system change (Co-investigator). Big Lottery

  • NIHR Applied Research Collaboration: Yorkshire and Humber (Named collaborator). Early Life and Prevention theme. NIHR

  • ActEarly: a City Collaboratory approach to early promotion of good health and wellbeing (Co-Investigator: (Evaluation Chair and Lead for Food theme)). NIHR PRP

  • Creative community workshop to inform decision making for air quality interventions (Chief Investigator). University of Leeds Public Engagement fund (Wellcome Trust small grant award).

  • Randomised Controlled Trial of Weight Watchers Flex: An international study to determine effectiveness on weight loss (UK Principal Investigator). WWInt.

  • PhD contribution funds to support project: ‘Ethnography of a Better Start Bradford’ (Chief Investigator). Trident Community Partnership

  • Talking Together: A feasibility study to evaluate a home-based language support programme for families of children aged 2 years (Co-investigator). Nuffield Foundation.

  • Development of a video clip for public engagement in routine data. (Chief Investigator) Connected Health Cities (CHC).

  • Development and evaluation of a public engagement intervention (national definitive trial) and feasibility trial of clinical effectiveness of HENRY, a community based programme aimed at preventing obesity in preschool children (Chief Investigator). NIHR CDF

HYMS SSIP project 2021: 'Its okay to talk: Improving outcomes for people living with obesity by addressing stigma and unconscious bias'


Chair of Board of Trustees for Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) (2019-date)

Director of Nutrition Research for Born in Bradford, Bradford Institute of Health ResearchInvited expert for the UK Obesity Care Advocacy Network OPEN (2019-date)

Academic lead for Diet and Obesity, a Better Start Bradford (2016-date)

Evaluation lead for ActEarly- UK Policy Research Programme (2019-24)

Food theme lead for ActEarly- UK Policy Research Programme (2019-24)

Invited expert partner for the ESRC Strategic Network in Obesity (2015-date)

Invited collaborator: NIHR Applied Research Collaboration: Yorkshire and Humber. Early Life and Prevention theme (2019-date)

Postgraduate research supervision

I am interested in hearing from potential PhD candidates with an interest in Public health research in, particularly those considering obesity, food (and food systems), environmental or implementation research.

Funding is currently not available and will need to be sought in advance.

PhD supervision:

Laura McLarty. Ethnography of a Better Start Bradford; implementation of systems based changed in a local community.

Burton, W. The development and evaluation of a complex intervention to optimise parent engagement with an obesity prevention programme. (P/T). Due to submit March 2020.

Sharma, V. Developing an obesity co-morbidities screening tool for children and adolescents (aged 5-18). Graduated 2018.

Honours and awards

NIHR Development and Skills Enhancement Award. 2021. Chief investigator