A new research center—which will develop strategies for promoting healthy eating—is being established by Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The center will be funded by a three-year, $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It will be called the Duke-UNC USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research and will focus on improving dietary choices among food stamp recipients. The goal of the center is to find ways of using data and consumer psychology to change the behavior of food consumers. The grant application by Duke and UNC for the funding to host the center was supported by several large retail chains, including Walmart.

The BECR Center will be headed by Matthew Harding, assistant professor of public policy at the Sanford School. In a Duke News release announcing the creation of the center, Harding said that research at the center would aim to develop strategies that improved consumer diets and help food companies make money.

“We’ll employ an innovative approach combining big data analysis with large-scale field experiments to pursue triple-win strategies - policies that benefit consumers, are not hurting the bottom line for companies and have broad impact on the public good,” Harding said in the release.

A similar USDA-funded center at Cornell University has been researching ways to change how students choose food in school cafeterias.

“A lot of those things are good ideas, they work,” Harding said in the release, “so now we’re going to take them into a broader setting and try to change people’s behavior in stores, farmers’ markets and other places where people make food choices.”

Researchers from both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill will be involved in the center.

Since 2007, the number of Americans using food stamps has nearly doubled, the release states. The program reached record heights with approximately one out of every six Americans using the program.

“This is important research that has the potential to improve the health of millions of Americans,” Kelly Brownell, dean of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a food policy expert, said in the release. “Matt Harding has assembled an impressive team of people to work on very important issues.”