The Lamm Lab recently wrapped up a 5-year formative and summative evaluation of the Healthier Together project funded by the Centers for Disease Control in conjunction with the UGA College of Public Health. We often begin projects like this one, an interdisciplinary Extension effort designed to reduce obesity by increasing access to healthy food and promoting physical activity in rural Georgia, expecting to make great strides and change lives, but one of the most difficult things to accomplish is an ability to measure long-term impact. Using cognitive dissonance as a framework, our evaluation team led by Tatevik Markosyan, Dr. Katie Sanders, and Dr. Alexa Lamm, took a unique qualitative approach to understand where the project did things right and where things could have been improved.

Using a thematic analysis of focus group data in the five communities impacted by the project, the evaluation team observed an overall positive association between community members’ experiences with cognitive dissonance, resulting in the acceptance of healthier food choices over inherited unhealthy practices, increased knowledge and awareness about nutrient-dense food, and increased physical activity. The cognitive dissonance framework also revealed positive indicators of long-term programmatic impact related to food choice and consumption patterns. To learn more about our study and resulting findings, check out our article published in the Journal of Agricultural Education titled Using Cognitive Dissonance to Evaluation Extension Impact in Rural Communities.