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Leonard H. Epstein, PhD

Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, has pioneered successful behavioral approaches to weight control, including reduced screen time, lifestyle exercise and the Traffic Light Diet.

Noted UB Childhood Obesity Expert Named AAAS Fellow

Published December 23, 2013

Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of pediatrics, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in recognition of his notable contributions to the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.

Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, developed the family-friendly Traffic Light Diet, widely used to instill healthy eating habits in overweight children.

The internationally recognized expert on childhood weight control and family intervention is one of 388 fellows elected this year by members of the association — the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science.

Epstein will be recognized during the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting on Feb. 15 in Chicago.

Research Leads to Practical, Effective Solutions

Known as one of the most creative and productive investigators in the field of behavioral medicine and nutrition, Epstein leads the University at Buffalo’s pediatric behavioral medicine division.

His research — including a focus on mechanisms that regulate intake and energy expenditure in children — has resulted in practical, effective weight control solutions.

He was the first to demonstrate that less television viewing improves childhood obesity treatment outcomes. He developed and tested innovative approaches to reducing this habit that have improved standard pediatric obesity treatment.

Epstein also pioneered the use of lifestyle exercise as a component of obesity treatment. He developed and tested successful programs that integrate exercise into everyday routines. The beneficial effects lasted over a decade of follow-up.

He developed the family-friendly Traffic Light Diet, widely used to instill healthy eating habits in overweight children. The diet is a key component of the Buffalo Childhood Weight Control Program that Epstein developed and directs at UB.

Results show that half of participating children maintain a healthy weight after 10 years — a long-term success rate far higher than the typical 10 percent or less.

Major Research Includes Food Purchase Study

Epstein has received more than $20 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Among his five current NIH-funded projects, he is developing evidence-based science about food purchase decisions, using an Internet-based, experimental grocery store he established. He also is evaluating the use of nutrition information food shoppers obtain through the NuVal nutritional scoring system he helped develop. In addition, he is studying the role of habituation as a risk factor for the development of childhood obesity and, through another grant project, he is translating basic research on habituation into novel obesity interventions.

On the national level, Epstein chairs an NIH study section that reviews funding applications for behavioral intervention research related to various conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. He also has served on the NIH’s advisory board for the Center for Scientific Review and chaired its study section on behavioral medicine, interventions and outcomes.

Creative Researcher Recognized Nationally, Locally

Epstein has been honored with the American Psychological Association’s award for outstanding contributions to health psychology and served as president of the APA’s Division of Health Psychology.

He also won the UB medical school’s 2012 Stockton Kimball Award in recognition of his outstanding research contributions and significant service to the university.