ABOUT The SSEW initiative

The Sugar, Stress, Environment and Weight (SSEW) Initiative is a UC-wide coalition of research scientists, clinicians, and California policy makers who are working together to reduce the adverse consequences of the obesity epidemic and related metabolic diseases. Our interdisciplinary research initiatives span from biology to policy, studying the basic science of sugar, stress, and addiction, and translating findings that can inform and drive public policy to promote public health. SSEW scientists are coming together from across 6 of the UC Campuses, to  tack important questions such as:

Does food addiction exist? | Do highly palatable substances, such as sugar, have potent effects similar to drugs? | How does marketing unhealthy food impact children and vulnerable populations? | What is the impact of the sugary beverage ban by UCSF?

These are a few of the many pressing questions of high importance to the SSEW Initiative researchers. The SSEW Initiative is co-directed by Drs. Elissa Epel and Laura Schmidt of UC San Francisco, and part of the the Center for Obesity Assessment Study and Treatment (COAST). We are sponsored by the University of California, Office of the President (UCOP), the UCSF Center for Health and Community, and the UCSF Nutrition & Obesity Research Center (NORC).

The SSEw Initiative Directors

Elissa s. Epel, PhD

Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF. She is also a faculty member in the Health Psychology Postdoctoral Program, the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program. She is one of the founders and Director of COAST and the Co-Director of the SSEW Initiative.  She received a BA in psychology from Stanford University, and a PhD in clinical psychology from Yale University, with a focus on health psychology.  She completed a clinical internship focusing on Behavioral Medicine at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.  Starting with 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 studies how social and psychological factors affect cellular aging (telomeres), as well as eating behavior and food addiction.  She and her colleagues are testing how mindfulness based and behavioral interventions may improve metabolic health. 

Laura SchmidT, PhD, MSW, MPH

Laura A. Schmidt, PhD, MSW, MPH, is a professor in the UCSF School of Medicine and the Co-Director of the SSEW Initiative. She has dedicated her career to intervening on the social determinants of health and to understanding how lifestyle risk factors, such as alcohol and poor diet, influence chronic disease and health inequality. She holds a joint appointment in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine. Dr. Schmidt is also co-director of the Community Engagement and Health Policy Program for UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. She received her PhD training in sociology at UC Berkeley and, while there, completed doctoral coursework in public health. She also holds a master's degree in clinical social work.


The SSEw symposium Staff


Samantha Schilf, BA

Samantha is the Executive Director at the UCSF Sugar, Stress, Environment, and Weight (SSEW) Initiative, Center for Obesity Assessment, Study, Treatment (COAST) Center, and the Aging, Metabolism, and Emotion (AME) Center.  In 2010, she joined the UCSF Center for Health and Community and has coordinated various research efforts that explore how the stress-disease link can be broken when individuals engage in restorative health behaviors (i.e., exercise, yoga, meditation, mindful eating). Her interests also include exploring novel ways to utilize technology, media, and the arts to address public health issues and promote health equity.

Alison Hartman, BA

Alison is the Project Director for SSEW's Healthy Beverage Initiative Study. She serves as the Assistant Executive Director for the UCSF Sugar, Stress, Environment, and Weight Center. In 2015, Alison earned her bachelor's degree in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis. Her research interests are in maternal mental health, obesity, eating disorders, and women's reproductive health.  


Ekaterina GuVva, BA

Ekaterina is a Research Assistant at the UCSF Aging, Memory and Emotions Center. Katya received her Bachelor’s Degree in International Marketing in Russia, where she was born and raised. After spending several years working in marketing, she decided to change careers and became a full-time pre-med student at San Francisco State University. She hopes to become a Family Physician who empowers her patients to gain control over their health through lifestyle and eating habits adjustments. Her interests are nutrition, healthy lifestyle, and Vinyasa Yoga. 

Contact Us

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Email: SSEWCenter@ucsf.edu