Alison M Buttenheim, PhD, MBA
Assistant Professor of Nursing and Assistant Professor of Health Policy

Contact Information
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing
Room 416 Fagin Hall
418 Curie Blvd.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4217
tel: (215) 573-5314

Dr. Alison Buttenheim received her BA from Yale University, her MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and her PhD in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Office of Population Research, Princeton University and was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.

Two core questions motivate Dr. Buttenheim’s interdisciplinary research agenda on global maternal-child health: (1) How can we change parent behavior to improve child health? and (2) Do maternal-child health interventions work? She addresses “last mile” problems in maternal-child health: evidence-based practices that haven’t reached the target population. Her work focuses on understanding how health behavior decisions are made within households, and how socioeconomic and cultural contexts both condition and constrain those decisions. Dr. Buttenheim also practices and promotes rigorous impact evaluation and implementation research to inform investments in maternal-child health programs.

Dr. Buttenheim teaches “Introduction to the Principles and Methods of Epidemiology” (NURS 500/PUBH502), a core course for the MPH program and an excellent introduction to epidemiology for clinicians and nurse scientists. The course presents challenging material in a dynamic, inquiry-driven, case-based format. Dr. Buttenheim encourages epidemiology students to view health from a population perspective and to apply the epidemiologic toolkit to a wide range of health challenges in the community. Students work in small groups for much of the class period, critiquing the epidemiologic literature and tackling engaging, real-world cases.

Dr. Buttenheim’s current program of research focuses on the use of behavioral economic principles (including financial incentives and intrinsic rewards) to encourage behavior change and take-up of preventive care services in the area of maternal-child health. She has active projects on vaccine hesitancy and vaccine refusal in the US; and on increasing participation in community health programs in Peru.

• Affiliations
   Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics
   Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics
   Center for Public Health Initiatives
   Master of Public Health Program
   Population Studies Center

• Currently Funded Grants

• Center for Health Equity Research
• Center for Global Women's Health

Clinical Practice
A recognized evaluation expert, Dr. Buttenheim has consulted on several impact evaluation studies in international settings. These studies have looked at the impact of village midwife and microfinance programs in Indonesia, school feeding schemes in Laos, household sanitation in Bangladesh, and post-disaster relief and recovery programs. She also consults on the implementation of evidence-based practices in global public health, recently completing an implementation evaluation for the Centers for Disease Control Global Tobacco Control Branch on global tobacco surveillance strategies.


Dr. Buttenheim completed several selective training fellowships: As a doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles, she was funded as a demography trainee by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2004-2007). She was selected as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania (2009-2011) and recently completed a career development KM1 fellowship in Comparative Effectiveness Research at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2011-2013). She is an active member of the Food and Nutrition and International Health sections of the American Public Health Association, and an ad hoc reviewer for several top journals in the fields of public health, global health, demography, and development studies.
• Honors/Awards Details »

Publications (select year)
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We have a wealth of evidence-based practices that can dramatically improve child health, from oral rehydration therapy and vaccines to bednets and bike helmets. However, most of these preventive practices require parents to make active decisions, and uptake can be tragically low. I am excited by the challenge of discovering social and behavioral innovations that can increase parent engagement in preventive care, and ultimately improve child health.