Leigh Ann Simmons, Ph.D., M.F.T.


Position Title
Co-Director and Social Sciences Anchor


Dr. Simmons brings expertise and leadership in interdisciplinary social sciences and health disparities research with a focus on: (1) characterizing co-occurring chronic disease risk factors for disparities populations (e.g., rural, low socioeconomic status, racial/ethnic minority); (2) understanding the impact of early life exposures (e.g., prenatal, family, community) on later life chronic disease risk; and (3) developing and testing behavior change interventions to reduce chronic disease risk behaviors. Dr. Simmons has published nearly 70 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters and has served as PI and Co-Investigator on USDA-, VA- and NIH-funded grants in these areas. She has led teams that have recruited and followed for 3 years over 900 pregnant and nonpregnant rural women and their families, and recruited 1,000 rural women to participate in a study of depression and mental health care. Her research has demonstrated high rates of co-occurring psychosocial, behavioral, and biological chronic disease risk factors among rural mothers and shown how multigenerational poverty, neighborhood factors, and parental health negatively affect children’s well-being. Most recently, she has used digital technology to address risk behaviors in disparities populations, including testing text-based scheduled gradual reduction for rural and medically underserved tobacco users (1R15-CA198841-01, Noonan PI) and testing a digital weight control intervention for pregnancy and postpartum (1 R01 NR017659-01A, Simmons PI). In her previous role at Duke, she was faculty director of a university-wide, $3 million, interdisciplinary initiative, All Babies and Children Thrive, which convened diverse teams of scholars and trainees to promote positive prenatal and early childhood development.