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Research News

Epstein named AAAS fellow

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published December 12, 2013

Leonard Epstein

Leonard Epstein

Leonard H. Epstein, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. Election as a AAAS fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. A total of 388 fellows were named this year.

The AAAS elected Epstein “for distinguished contributions to the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, including mechanisms that regulate intake and energy expenditure in children.”

New fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a rosette pin during the AAAS’ Annual Meeting in February in Chicago.

Epstein is division chief of behavioral medicine in the Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and holds appointments in the departments of Community Health and Health Behavior, and Social and Preventive Medicine in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

He is one of the most productive investigators in the field of behavioral medicine and nutrition, and an internationally recognized expert on childhood weight control and family intervention. Epstein takes an evidence-based approach to health behavior change as it relates to obesity, using the best available evidence from peer-reviewed scientific data.

Epstein was the first researcher to demonstrate that reducing television viewing improves childhood obesity treatment outcomes. He developed and tested innovative approaches to reducing television watching that improved standard approaches to pediatric obesity treatment.

He also pioneered the use of lifestyle exercise as a component of obesity treatment, developing and testing programs that allow people to integrate into their usual lifestyles exercises that have similar calorie-burning benefits as standard aerobic exercise programs. The beneficial effects lasted over a decade of follow-up.

He developed the Traffic Light Diet, widely used by families to instill healthy eating habits in overweight children. It is a component of the Buffalo Childhood Weight Control Program that Epstein developed and directs at UB. A study showed that half of the children who participated in this program had maintained a healthy weight after 10 years, far higher than the usual percentage, typically 10 percent or less.

Epstein’s UB research has received more than $20 million in NIH funding. Among current NIH-funded projects, he is developing evidence-based science about how people decide what foods to buy, using a large-scale, Internet-based experimental grocery store he established. The use of nutrition information, provided by the NuVal nutrition profiling system that Epstein helped develop, also will be evaluated.

He chairs an NIH study section charged with reviewing applications to test behavioral interventions for 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 Behavioral Medicine, Interventions and Outcomes study section.

A past president of the American Psychological Association’s Division of Health Psychology, Epstein has received the APA’s award for outstanding contributions to health psychology.

He won the UB medical school’s 2012 Stockton Kimball Award in recognition of his outstanding research contributions and significant service to the university, and gave the Stockton Kimball lecture on “Reinforcement Pathology and Obesity” in June.