Alison M. Buttenheim, PhD, MBA
How can we use behavioral science to prevent infectious disease?
Using insights from behavioral economics and related disciplines, Dr. Buttenheim designs and trials interventions to change behaviors that are central to infectious disease prevention. Her work spans Chagas disease prevention campaigns in Peru and HIV testing and treatment efforts in South Africa to vaccine acceptance and COVID-19 mitigation strategies in the US.
“I am motivated by the ongoing challenge of helping people change their behavior to improve health.”
- PhD, University of California at Los Angeles, 2007
- MBA, Stanford University, 1997
- BA, Yale University, 1992
Health behaviors are stronger predictors of health outcomes than genetics, environmental factors, or even access to medical care. Through her research, teaching, and community-based practice, Dr. Buttenheim is keenly interested in identifying and dismantling mechanisms that produce social disparities in unhealthy behaviors. In the US, she has studied how to implement incentives-based smoking cessation programs for pregnant Medicaid members, who currently don’t have widespread access to these evidence-based strategies. In her work on the National Academic of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on the Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Buttenheim joined others in calling for preferential allocation of limited vaccine supply to communities hardest hit by the virus. Dr. Buttenheim was one of the founding members of Bold Solutions, an initiative to dismantle racism and advance Black health. Along with Amy Summer and Dr. Chris Chesley, she chairs the joint CHIBE/PAIR Committee on Anti-Racism and Social Change.
Dr. Buttenheim designed and teaches Behavioral Economics and Health (NURS 613), a course that draws students from over a dozen different graduate programs across seven of Penn’s schools. Dr. Buttenheim has also taught Impact Evaluation of Global Health Programs (PUBH 554), Introduction to Principles and Methods of Epidemiology (N500), and Nursing in the Community (N380). She is a regular guest lecture in courses on global health, population health, behavioral science, intervention design, and implementation science.
Dr. Buttenheim’s research is focused on the application of behavioral insights to infectious disease prevention, and to the implementation of evidence-based practices in multiple domains. She has been continuously NIH-funded as PI or MPI since 2013 for projects on Chagas disease prevention, vaccine exemptions, dental behavior change, and mental health services delivery. With a particular interest in behaviorally-informed intervention design, Dr. Buttenheim has published multiple papers demonstrating the potential for behavioral insights and behavioral design to yield high-impact intervention designs.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
Dr. Buttenheim is connected with multiple centers and programs across Penn’s campus that offer opportunities for interdisciplinary engagement and training. She is the Scientific Director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics (CHIBE) and encourages interested students to participate in CHIBE’s offerings. She is a core faculty member in Penn’s Master of Public Health program, a research associate at the Population Studies Center, and a faculty affiliate of the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program in the School of Arts and Sciences. She is Director of Engagement for Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and Associate Director of Penn’s National Clinician Scholars Program. With Dr. Harsha Thirumurthy, Dr. Buttenheim leads Indlela, an HIV-focused “Nudge Unit” in South Africa, supported by funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Selected Career Highlights
- Member, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on the Equitable Allocation of the COVID-19 Vaccine.
- Commissioner, Lancet Commission on Vaccine Hesitancy.
- Co-Founder, Dear Pandemic
- Top 100 Finalist, MacArthur Foundation 100&Change Competition
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar
Jones M, Buttenheim AM, Salmon D, Omer SB. Mandatory Health Care Provider Counseling For Parents Led To A Decline In Vaccine Exemptions In California. Health Aff (Millwood). 2018
Jenssen BP, Buttenheim AM, Fiks AG. Using Behavioral Economics to Encourage Parent Behavior Change: Opportunities to Improve Clinical Effectiveness. Acad Pediatr. 2018 Aug 30. pii: S1876-2859(18)30574-6.
Mohanty S, Buttenheim AM, Feemster KA, Moser CA, Field RI, Yudell M, Turchi RM, Carroll-Scott A. Pediatricians’ vaccine attitudes and practices before and after a major measles outbreak. J Child Health Care. 2018 Jan 1:1367493518786011.
Mohanty S, Carroll-Scott A, Wheeler M, Davis-Hayes C, Turchi R, Feemster K, Yudell M, Buttenheim AM. Vaccine Hesitancy in Pediatric Primary Care Practices. Qual Health Res. 2018 Jun 1:1049732318782164.
Bal S, Duckles A, Buttenheim A. Visual Health and Visual Healthcare Access in Refugees and Displaced Persons: A Systematic Review. J Immigr Minor Health. 2018 Jun 2.
Buttenheim AM, Jones M, Mckown C, Salmon D, Omer SB. Conditional admission, religious exemption type, and nonmedical vaccine exemptions in California before and after a state policy change. Vaccine. 2018 May 16.
Okatch H, Sowicz TJ, Teng H, Ramogola‐Masire D, Buttenheim AM. Achieving public and global health competencies: A teaching case study of Botswana’s cervical cancer screening program. Public Health Nursing. 2018 Feb 13.
* Johnson LG, Armstrong A, Joyce CM, Teitelman AM, Buttenheim AM. Implementation strategies to improve cervical cancer prevention in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review. Implementation Science. 2018 Dec;13(1):28.
Delgado MK, McDonald CC, Winston FK, Halpern SD, Buttenheim AM, Setubal C, Huang Y, Saulsgiver KA, Lee YC. Attitudes on technological, social, and behavioral economic strategies to reduce cellphone use while driving in teens. Traffic injury prevention. 2018 Apr 6:1-23.
Ibarra JL, Agas JM, Lee M, Pan JL, Buttenheim AM. Comparison of Online Survey Recruitment Platforms for Hard-to-Reach Pregnant Smoking Populations: Feasibility Study. JMIR research protocols. 2018 Apr;7(4).