Obesity researcher pursues technology as future of treatment
Delia West, PhD, FTOS, professor in the department of exercise science in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, was named the winner of the Obesity Society’s Pioneer Award for Excellence in the Field. The award is meant to honor an individual who has made technology advancement a priority in research on obesity prevention and treatment.
West, who is also the SmartState Endowed Chair and director of the Center for Technology to Promote Healthful Lifestyles at the University of South Carolina, focuses her research on technology-assisted lifestyle interventions for obesity, as well as the disease’s etiology and treatment.
Endocrine Today spoke with West about how her early career has influenced her research interests and the growing role technology will have in obesity treatment in the future.
What was the defining moment that led you to your field?
West: I started my career as an assistant professor of preventive medicine at University of Alabama at Birmingham and began doing work with communities in rural areas of the state. My colleagues and I would drive for several hours to get to our community partners to work to develop and implement the health promotion interventions we were studying. This underscored for me the issues associated with geographic barriers to lifestyle interventions to improve health.
I then moved to University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and had an opportunity to study the comparative efficacy of behavioral weight control delivered in person, as was the gold standard, and an online delivery of the same treatment program. What a revolutionary advance this could be! A delivery channel that could provide more ready access to state-of-the-art behavioral interventions for people who might otherwise be unable to access that level of care!
For me this was a critical defining moment — the intersection of a truly effective behavioral program with technology that would allow us to provide it to individuals living in rural areas, as well as those who lived in more urban areas but who might otherwise experience difficulties accessing our programs.
What area of research most interests you right now and why?
West: I am curious about how we can move toward personalized lifestyle medicine. What interventions work best for whom and when? How can we tailor our behavioral weight-control interventions to improve the efficacy of our evidence-based approaches to capitalize on individual strengths and preferences, and will tailoring in this fashion result in better health outcomes and improved quality of life? These are the questions that drive my current research interests.
What advice would you offer a student in medical school today?
West: I tell my students to remember that it’s not just whether you “get the job” or the fellowship, it’s whether the position or fellowship “gets you.” Advancing your career means finding a good match, so it pays to ask questions to see if the job offers what you need and want, as well as answering their questions to see if you measure up to what they want. Whenever you focus solely on trying to be what they want to hire, you are in danger of ending up in a position that might not be the best for what you need next in your training.
What do you think will have the greatest influence on your field in the next 10 years?
West: The introduction of technology has been and will continue to be a source of change in our field. Our ability to integrate technology into our behavioral weight-control interventions is beginning to reach clinical practice, and with the significant advances in sophistication and availability of technology anticipated in the decade ahead, I believe this trajectory will continue and weight management in the future will include technology seamlessly integrated along with our behavioral strategies.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of obesity research?
West: Outside of obesity research I enjoy spending time with my family. I am a soccer mom, cheering my daughter and her teammates at her games (and editing student papers on the sidelines during practice). We are currently reading the Harry Potter series together, and I enjoy rediscovering books I loved in the past through her eyes.
Disclosure: West reports no relevant financial disclosures.