We all know what the colors on a traffic light stand for. During the 1970s, Leonard Epstein, PhD, used its tri-color palette to create an easy-to-follow diet for overweight children.
Known as the Traffic Light diet, it divides foods by the colors of a traffic signal: green for low-calorie foods that can be eaten freely; yellow for moderate-calorie foods that can be eaten occasionally; and red for high-calorie foods that should be eaten rarely.
Since it was launched, the Traffic Light Diet has been used widely by pediatricians to encourage healthy eating habits among their patients. Key to the diet is parental involvement.
Epstein, chief of the division of behavioral medicine in the Department of Pediatrics, finds that children are most successful at losing and keeping off extra pounds when the family follows the plan, too. “Kids model their parents,” he says. “They learn healthy as well as unhealthy behaviors from them.”
Since he developed the Stop Light Diet, Epstein hasn’t put the brakes on his research. As childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, he and his colleagues at UB remain committed to probing its causes and cultivating new treatments.
“Our work continues to develop on multiple levels,” Epstein says. “We are very interested in the genetics of food reinforcement and obesity; the role of different behavioral, dietary and activity approaches to treatment; and how habits develop. Our work attempts to translate the newest basic science into effective clinical interventions.”