The Duke-UNC USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research (BECR) is funded by the USDA to promote healthy, economical food choice through the use of behavioral economics.  BECR is particularly interested in promoting healthy and cost-effective food choices for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).  Under the direction of Peter Ubel, the Center is a joint collaboration between both Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Alice Ammerman is the UNC Principal Investigator.  Duke and UNC are uniquely suited to host the BECR Center as it allows researchers and grantees to benefit from synergies with additional researchers within the two universities as well as community-based partners.

Our Approach

Field-Based Randomized Controlled Trials

Designing and implementing large field-based experiments to uncover behavioral interventions that are policy-relevant, scalable in a cost-efficient manner, and persistent over time

Dissemination of Findings

Dissemination of research findings to stakeholders through various forms of traditional and social media

New Perspectives Fellowships

Competitive fellowships to offer emerging investigators seed grant funds and mentoring

Healthy Food Behavior Grants

Competitive grants aimed at teams of researchers developing field experiments using behavioral economics to promote healthy, economical food choices

Vision: To use behavioral economics principles and strategies to promote healthy, economical food choices among WIC and SNAP recipients and the general public through research, capacity building, and dissemination.

Acknowledgement: The BECR Center is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Economic Research Service and Food and Nutrition Service.

Don’t forget to check out our funding opportunities!

Our Team

Director & PI

ubel (220x296) (1)Peter Ubel, MD | 919-660-8003
Content Area: Behavioral Sciences and Medicine

Dr. Ubel is a physician and behavioral scientist whose research uses the tools of decision psychology and behavioral economics to explore the mixture of rational and irrational forces that influence decisions related to health and health care. He is the Madge and Dennis T. McLawhorn University Professor of Business, Public Policy and Medicine at Duke University.  He has authored 4 books and over 250 academic publications. Since moving to Duke University, he has been working with graduate students at the Fuqua School of Business to design and test interventions to encourage people to order healthier foods when they eat at restaurants.

UNC Principal Investigator and Executive Committee Chair
Alice Ammerman, DrPH, MPH, RD | 919-966-6082
Content Area: NutritionDr. Ammeran began her career as a WIC nutritionist. She is Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill, and directs the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Her research focuses on the design, implementation, and dissemination of innovative approaches to chronic disease risk reduction (through nutrition and physical activity) in low income and minority populations. Dr. Ammerman co-directs the Center for Training and Research Translation. Dr. Ammerman is a member of the standing NIH study section on dissemination and implementation research and is actively engaged with USDA staff and SNAP-Ed implementers in enhancing their approach to policy and environmental change for obesity prevention, as well as evaluation of program impact.
Assistant Director

Assistant Director

Terry Hartman, MPH, MS, CCRC | 919-613-5907
Content Area: Public Health Informatics

Mr. Hartman is the assistant director and a part of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Prior to joining BECR, he worked in clinical research for over 5 years  in project management and regulatory affairs.  Mr. Hartman received a B.S. in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.P.H. with a certificate in public health informatics and an M.S. in Biomedical Informatics from the Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine.  He is currently working on his Ph.D. in Biomedical Informatics from Rutgers University.

Research Assistant

Research Assistant

Madelaine Katz
Content Area: Global Health

Ms. Katz is a research assistant at BECR.  She recently graduated from Duke University, with a degree in Global Health and Cultural Anthropology. She recently completed a senior thesis in Global Health studying the reproductive and mental health outcomes of a primary school intervention for adolescent girls in rural Kenya. With a passion for combining integrative community-based research with effective policy solutions, Madelaine aims to study the ways that our food and health choices can impact the well-being of our local communities.

Research Assistant

Picture1Research Assistant

Annabel Wang
Content Area: Health Policy

Ms. Wang conducts research with Dr. Peter Ubel at BECR, the Fuqua School of Business, and the Duke-Margolis Center of Health Policy. She graduated from Duke in 2015 with a degree in Public Policy and Biology, and hopes to pursue a career in medicine and health policy. Some of her current research projects include: exploring non-financial physician incentives for better care, improving consumer comprehension of insurance plans, and investigating drug cost trends and potential drug payment reform policies.


Dan ArielyPhD | 919-660-7703
Content Area: Behavioral Economics

Dr. Ariely is a New York Times bestselling author and Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at the Fuqua School of Business. He is one of the foremost leaders in psychology and behavioral economics research and has further expanded his research agenda into the health domain, particularly with respect to the topic of eating behavior. His research in this area focuses on the influence of small environmental factors that may have a greater effect on eating behavior than individual traits or motivations. Ariely is also the director of a behavioral lab, the Center for Advanced Hindsight (CAH), housed within the Social Science Research Institute at Duke University. CAH conducts experiments and field studies to expand findings about behaviors related to money, health, and work.


Brownell (366x402)Kelly Brownell, PhD | 919-613-7309
Content Area: Public Policy and Psychology

Dr. Brownell is Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and is a professor of public policy. Prior to joining the faculty at Duke, Brownell was at Yale University where he was the James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology, professor of epidemiology and public health, and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Brownell has published 15 books and more than 350 scientific articles and chapters. Brownell has advised the White House, members of congress, governors, world health and nutrition organizations, and media leaders on issues of nutrition, obesity and public policy.


Molly De MarcoPhD, MPH | 919-966-9563
Content Area: Health Behavior

Dr. De Marco is a Research Scientist at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She conducts research on determinants of health disparities and food insecurity and focuses on community-based research that engages low-income and historically marginalized populations. For the past four years, she has directed a program, funded through SNAP-Ed, to assist SNAP recipients to make healthy food choices, extend Summer Meals to more SNAP-eligible families in rural communities, and engage SNAP recipients in community gardens to build access to healthy food.


Gavan-FitzsimonsGavan J. Fitzsimons, PhD, MBA | 919-660-7793
Content Area: Marketing

Dr. Fitzimons is the R. David Thomas professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. His research focuses on understanding the ways in which consumers may be influenced without their conscious knowledge or awareness by marketers and marketing researchers, often without any intent on the part of the marketer. His work has been published in numerous academic journals and has also been featured in many popular press and is the co-director of the Duke-Ipsos Center for Shopper


Shu Wen Ng, PhD | 919-962-6188
Content Area: Health Economics

Dr. Ng is a faculty member in the UNC Department of Nutrition. She is a health economist studying the role of individual or household behaviors and choices on weight, chronic disease and health outcomes. She uses a variety of quantitative methods to study commercial store sales, household purchase, and nutrition facts panel data at the UPC/barcode level (scanner data), and has also worked extensively with dietary intake and nutrition databases.


story (268x250)Mary Story, PhD, RD | 919-681-7716
Content Area: Nutrition

Dr. Story is the Associate Director for Academic Programs in the Duke Global Health Institute. Mary is a leading scholar in the field of child and adolescent nutrition and child obesity prevention. She has published close to 400 articles in this field, is the founding director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation national program office of Healthy Eating Research, The aim is to fund research that provides advocates, decision-makers, and policy-makers with the evidence needed to guide and accelerate effective action to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. In total HER has awarded almost $21 million dollars to investigators.