The BECR Center engages in two types of core research activities in addition to administering a grants program to broaden the network of researchers– field-based randomized controlled trials and secondary data analysis using large transaction level data sets (“Big Data” approach).
Field-based randomized controlled trials
These trials explore novel behavioral interventions related to healthy food choices. The focus is on uncovering behavioral interventions which are policy-relevant, scalable in a cost-efficient manner, and persistent over time. For example, Drs. Ariely and Harding are currently exploring novel experimental designs using goal setting and precommitments to induce self-control, thereby driving healthier long-run food choices. We pursue collaborative work with relevant partners such as WIC/SNAP implementers and food retailers, who can provide the environment for behavioral field experiments. We also believe that an important component of changing food choice behavior involves the economically viable transformation of the environment in which the choice is being made. To this effect, the Center works with the Advisory Board to secure relevant collaborators from industry and retail as well as program staff charged with helping participants navigate these options.
Secondary data analysis
Big Data builds on current work by Dr. Harding in using the Nielsen and IRI databases of consumers in the National Consumer Panel and store level data by participating chains. The Center uses quasi-experimental approaches, such as natural experiments, to evaluate important policy changes and provide population level evidence on the health impacts of food choice behaviors. Secondary data analysis is also important for informing future field experiments by uncovering behavioral anomalies and quantifying supply side responses to policy changes. Recent research by the USDA establishes the value of this approach as complementary to experimental studies. The Advisory Board helps us identify additional expertise to help guide the WIC cost containment subprogram.