Brenda Wiederhold: What is your current position?
Barr Taylor: I am a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford Medical School and Director of the Laboratory for the Study of Behavioral Medicine.
Brenda Wiederhold: What is your main line of current research?
Barr Taylor: I am interested in primary and secondary prevention using Internet-based programs and other new technologies to reach defined populations. We have two large projects underway. In one, we provide a universal and targeted/selective prevention program to all 9th grade students at a local high school. Students are assigned to one of two “tracks” based on baseline weight. If they are “normal” weight they get a healthy weight regulation program that focuses on good nutrition, exercise and body image. If they are overweight or obese they get a program that helps with weight maintenance or weight loss. The program lasts 10 weeks and is delivered in the computer lab, during the physical activity class. There is a huge need for such programs in schools, particularly online programs combined with other activities. I believe schools can (need to) play a pivotal role in promoting healthy weight regulation and emotional health and among youth. We have another program designed to foster positive body image in college students. This program combines environmental activities with online screening so that college students are provided programs based on risk: no/low risk (StayingFit), risk of eating disorder (StudentBodies) and/or referral for clinical services. I have also been interested in combining teletherapy with online and Internet-based interventions. We have a project right now in Australia that uses telephone-based psychotherapy to promote lifestyle change (weight regulation and exercise) and improve mood in patients with heart disease and depression. In published studies we have shown the benefit of home-based nurse case management for multifactorial risk reduction in patients with heart disease and depression. I think the telephone is the most under-utilized tool in medicine!
Brenda Wiederhold: In one of your papers you write: “Given its potential to reach large populations it would seem ideal to provide obesity prevention programs over the Internet…” Can you tell me how you see technology impacting (positively or negatively) obesity and more generally metabolic disorders
Barr Taylor: Our work has recently focused on reaching all members of a defined population, for instance, all 9th grade students in a school. In many schools half or more of 9th grade students are overweight or obese and many are at risk of developing diabetes. A preventive intervention needs to address the unique needs of the students who are overweight and obese and a more universal curriculum must be provided to healthy weight students. Furthermore, the curriculum should avoid stigmatizing students while simultaneously reducing weight and shape concerns, the latter being a risk factor for eating disorders. We have designed programs to achieve these aims that can be delivered to all 9th grade students in a class. Preliminary data from several recent studies suggests that use of the program was associated with increased consumption of healthy foods and a decreased consumption of unhealthy foods, and with weight loss in the 40% of kids who were overweight/obese. Our programs could be improved by integrating games and other activities. It can seem counter-intuitive to promote computer-based interventions while encouraging students to reduce sedentary activity. However, the importance of tailored interventions that are cost-effective, easily-disseminated, and engaging to youth must be balanced with the goal of promoting increased activity. However, these programs can and should be combined with classroom and other activities.
Brenda Wiederhold: How does obesity prevention impact Body Image?
Barr Taylor: This is a hugely important question. We have found, as have others, that obesity prevention, when done properly, can reduce weight and shape concerns. I believe it is a myth – and a dangerous one – that weighing kids in school is bad, because, for instance, it may increase the risk of eating disorders. When done with respect to the student’s privacy and with proper feedback there is no evidence that weighing students in school is harmful; rather, it creates a database that permits us to deal with this epidemic in our society.
Brenda Wiederhold: What first interested you obesity and metabolic disorders?
Barr Taylor: In the 1970s I was education director of an amazing study, in which whole communities were randomized to mass media + community organization efforts to reduce cardiovascular risk. The study had a positive effect on improving risk. I also served as Associate Director of the Stanford Cardiac Rehabilitation Program and saw the sometimes devastating effects of these disorders first hand. I eventually decided to focus on adolescent and college students to address risk factors at an early age.
Brenda Wiederhold: What do you think we should do to move this research forward?
Barr Taylor: A. We need a national focus and center that provides, free, healthy lifestyle programs to schools! Some countries are moving in this direction. These programs need to be developed using innovative methods that are likely to make them more effective, such as the use of adaptive designs, smart trials and continuous quality improvement. The programs should be linked to measured outcomes in schools. B. We need to figure out how to combine Internet-based programs with school, community, and home-based activities and to take advantage of social networks. C. We researchers need to make more interesting and engaging programs using apps, games, Virtual Reality programs, monitoring devices, etc. D. Once we have a core program for schools, we can discover and add enhancements – such as games. E. We need to have a way to fund school-based prevention programs. The schools are broke and the teachers overworked. I think Internet programs need to be easy to deliver within protected/private school networks. I think it will be necessary to seek local commercial sponsorship.
Brenda Wiederhold: What are you most proud of in your career?
Barr Taylor: First, my students. Second, probably, is helping to establish the scientific basis that led the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations to require inpatient tobacco cessation programs for individuals who were smoking before admission and want to quit.
Brenda Wiederhold: What do you predict as the new trends for technology & healthcare for the next decade?
Barr Taylor: The next big trend will be finding ways to manage weight loss/maintenance via linking “consumption” (e.g., food purchases in restaurants and markets) and other lifestyle activities to weight changes/goals via phones, and other electronic devices.
Brenda Wiederhold: What is your passion?
Barr Taylor: Flyfishing and getting StayingFit (our school-based healthy weight regulation program) to 50,000 students next year!
President of Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) in Brussels, Belgium. Executive VP Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC), based in San Diego and Los Angeles, California. CEO of Interactive Media Institute a 501c3 non-profit Clinical Instructor in Department of Psychiatry at UCSD Founder of CyberPsychology, CyberTherapy, & Social Networking Conference Visiting Professor at Catholic University Milan.