Pioneering work in lifestyle health in preconception, pregnancy and postpartum, including CRE HiPP

Professor Helen Skouteris is Australia’s top-rated expert in gestational weight gain and ranked number six in the world (of 4,197 experts, expertscape, 2021). Her international standing is evidenced by paradigm-shifting discoveries in collaboration with her mentee Dr Briony Hill (via her PhD and NHMRC Early Career Fellowship), and their role in moving this field away from a singular focus on behavioural changes to prevent excessive gestational weight gain, to emphasizing the importance of behavioural and psychological factors during pregnancy and after birth. Between 2000-2010, only 12 peer-reviewed papers had been published on the psychosocial determinants of maternal obesity during pregnancy and the postpartum.

Professor Skouteris and Dr Hill have revolutionised this field in the last 10 years through delivery of:

  • > 74 peer-reviewed papers, including work with the top-rated gestational weight gain researcher in the world, Professor Emily Oken.
  • Two invited book chapters.
  • The Health in Preconception, Pregnancy and Postpartum (HiPPP) Collaborative (established in 2013) – a multidisciplinary national network with the primary aim of improving lifestyle and preventing maternal obesity using a systems approach.
  • A Global HiPPP Alliance (established in 2018) that brings together expert researchers from six continents, including the World Health Organisation, and consumer representatives from the UK, Europe, and Australia.
  • A CRE HiPPP Consumer and Community Involvement Framework that was led by Dr Heidi Bergmeier and was co-designed with consumers.
  • A HiPPP Early- and Mid-Career National Collective that was founded by Dr Briony Hill and is co-chaired by Briony and Dr Heidi Bergemeier (over 40 members to date – Prof Skouteris is the lead mentor of the Collective).
  • International preconception and pregnancy research priorities for the prevention of maternal obesity and related pregnancy and long-term complications.
  • A series of 6 professional development preconception and pregnancy healthy lifestyle modules for undergraduate midwifery students.

They’ve ensured that ongoing, high-quality research in this field will continue through:

  • Supervising 6 PhD completions
  • An Alfred Deakin PhD Medal
  • An Australian Psychological Society Prize (top PhD thesis in Health Psychology)

This work would not have been possible without the funding support of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Since 2017, they have also worked with vulnerable pregnant and postpartum mothers in collaboration with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency and with MacKillop Family Services.

Projects include:

CRE HiPP

NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Health in Preconception and Pregnancy. Professor Skouteris is Principal investigator and Director, CRE HiPP, 2020-2024.

Body image during pregnancy and the postpartum

Seminal research in body image during pregnancy and the postpartum, including conceptual models of body dissatisfaction and other psychosocial risk factors of excessive gestational weight gain, exclusive breastfeeding, and postpartum weight retention, and the development of the Pregnancy Figure Rating Scale (PRFS) – a measure of discrepancies between current and ideal shape during pregnancy, that is now used by researchers internationally – and the validated Body Image in Pregnancy Scale – translated and validated for use in Germany (doi.10.1186/s12884-019-2386-4).

Project leads: Dr Heidi Bergmeier and Dr Briony Hill

Watson B, Fuller-Tyszkiewicz M, Broadbent J, Skouteris H (2017). Development and validation of a tailored measure of body image for pregnant women. Psychological Assessment. DOI: 10.1037/pas0000441

Skouteris H, Carr R, Wertheim EH, Paxton SJ (2005). A prospective study of factors that lead to body image dissatisfaction during pregnancy. Body Image, 2, 347-361