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Extramural Research

ERS encourages new and innovative research through joint projects between ERS staff and outside researchers. The ERS extramural research program component uses two main mechanisms to promote food and nutrition assistance research from a broad arena:

USDA Centers for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research

ERS plays a leading role in applying behavioral economic theories and concepts to improving food choices. In partnership with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), ERS has invested in developing a major behavioral economics/healthy food-choice research program. This includes the establishment of two university-based research centers dedicated to generating knowledge and developing research capacity in this important research area:

  • Duke-UNC-USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research—a partnership between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, established by ERS in September 2014.
  • Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, commonly referred to as the BEN Center, established by ERS in 2010.

For more information, see Behavioral Economics

Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics Program (RIDGE)

The Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics (RIDGE) Program encourages new and innovative research on food and nutrition assistance issues and broadens the participation of social science scholars in such research. RIDGE is funded by ERS and administered in partnership with:

The RIDGE Centers oversee the application, peer review, award, and performance processes of the research grants provided through the RIDGE Program. Each center serves as a hub for mentoring and training researchers interested in food and nutrition assistance issues and provides a source of timely and accessible information on new research findings. For more information, see RIDGE at ERS 16x16 - PDF .

Partnership Institutions

For details about the RIDGE Centers and their annual research competitions, visit the institutions listed below:

  • The RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research at the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), University of Wisconsin-Madison, focuses on research related to food and nutrition assistance issues that affect the entire Nation. The IRP—one of three Area Poverty Research Centers—is a leader in poverty and policy research, with an extensive network of research and policy colleagues. An important component of IRP's work relates to determinants of food assistance program participation and the effects of participation on food security, obesity, and other outcomes.
  • The RIDGE Center for Targeted Food and Nutrition Assistance Research at the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC), Mississippi State University, supports food and nutrition assistance research directed at specific populations such as residents of rural areas, Native Americans, and immigrants. The RIDGE Center at SRDC, with an important regional focus in the South, has strong working relationships with other Regional Rural Development Centers. These strong relationships provide a platform for targeted studies in areas across the country that experience significant economic, social, and demographic challenges that may impact the nutritional health of their residents.

Annual Conference

ERS and the RIDGE Centers host the Food and Nutrition Assistance RIDGE Program Conference in the Fall of each year at which RIDGE researchers present findings of completed projects. This year’s RIDGE Conference will be held on Thursday, October 8, 2015, at the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), 1307 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. A preliminary agenda is available. For findings from research projects delivered at past conferences, see the RIDGE Centers at IRP and SRDC.   

Research Project Summaries

RIDGE, known as the Small Grants Program through 2006, has funded more than 260 projects at over 100 educational and research institutions during 1998-2014. In addition to projects funded by the current RIDGE Centers, many research projects were conducted through previous RIDGE partners at the American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona; the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago; the Joint Center for Poverty Research, University of Chicago and Northwestern University; and the Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis.

The RIDGE Program annually summarizes research findings of projects that were awarded grants through its partner institutions in a given year. The summaries are available in a searchable electronic database. To perform a customized search of all RIDGE project summaries by keyword(s), project, research center, investigator, or year, see:

RIDGE Projects and Summaries

Visit to find and apply for grants available across the Federal Government.

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Last updated: Tuesday, September 15, 2015

For more information contact: Alex Majchrowicz and Joanne Guthrie

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