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“Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

U.S. Surgeon General,
Richard Carmona,
March 2004


Elissa Epel, Ph.D.

2009 Summit video presentation

Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF, and founding Co-Director of the UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment and Treatment (COAST)

Elissa Epel is an associate professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry. She is also a faculty member in the Health Psychology Postdoctoral Program, the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Postdoctoral Scholars Program, one of the founders and director of research at the UCSF Center on Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment (COAST http://www.chc.ucsf.edu/coast/index.htm). She received a BA in psychology from Stanford University, and a PhD in clinical psychology from Yale University, with a focus on health psychology. Through her research on stress and training in the Yale Center for Eating and Weight disorders, she became interested in the intricate relationships between chronic psychological stress, eating behavior, and energy balance. She completed a clinical internship focusing on Behavioral Medicine at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

She has longstanding interests in social and psychobiological stress mechanisms, and impact of stress physiology on food intake, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature aging at the cellular level. Her focus is on psychoneuroendocrine mediation — how stress-induced hormonal dysregulation may mediate relationships between stressor appraisal and metabolically-related outcomes (food ingestion, insulin resistance, visceral fat distribution, cell aging). Her primary study is on family caregivers, and attempts to understand, from a psychobiological and genetic perspective, why some people are vulnerable and others are resilient to the chronic stress of caregiving.

Epel received the Stanford Firestone Medal for excellence in undergraduate research, the Division 38 Outstanding Student Research Award, the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Outstanding Dissertation Award, and the Division 38 Distinguished Contribution Award. She also received the Neal Miller Young Investigator Award and the Curt Richter Award (from the International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology). Her work has been supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the national Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NARSAD, and a Hellman Foundation Award. Examining novel mind– body mechanisms requires patience, persistence, pilot funds, good mentoring, and a supportive family. In these respects, Epel feels very fortunate and grateful for the resources and people who have helped make these initial scientific explorations possible.

"Rooted in health psychology, she has incorporated knowledge from neuroendcrinology and molecular biology to provide convincing evidence of the impact of stress and psychological vulnerability on important outcomes including obesity, fat deposition, and cellular aging. She has shown imagination and rigor in the lab, in the field, and through interventions. Her passion for science is exceeded only by her generosity, effectiveness as a mentor, and commitment to improving the lives of others.”

Click here to view her Award For Distinguished Scientific Early Career Contributions to Psychology, which contains a selected bibliography.

View her paper on Stress, Eating and the Reward System