Anthropology professor conducts global research for pilot program

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March 13, 2018

Rachel Librach

Michelle Escasa-Dorne. Photo by Department of Anthropology

    Michelle Escasa-Dorne, a professor of anthropology, recently returned from the Philippines, where she furthered her understanding of how women live on opposite sides of the world.

    Escasa-Dorne is conducting research on how culture and reproductive tendencies affect an individual’s aging process.

   Escasa-Dorne began her research in 2008. Since then, she has visited the Philippines multiple times to study the cultural and reproductive systems in women compared to Colorado Springs.

   Escasa-Dorne is working with Lauren Walters, a biological anthropology major, and a UCCS alumni on a study focusing on the genetic effects and cultural norms associated with reproduction. The team is interested in examining how changes in hormonal increases influence the way humans age.

    “We know that breast feeding or getting pregnant increases estrogen and other hormone levels,” said Escasa-Dorne. “The number of pregnancies, breastfeeding and menstrual cycles a woman might go through in one lifetime does have an influence on certain traits during aging.”

   Other aspects of the study include assessing the culture of the Philippines and Colorado Springs and how each society views body and breast size.

     “I expect there will be several differences in variation we see between Colorado and the Philippines participants, particularly with body image. The Philippines have a lot less exposure to media in general, and I wonder how that might influence the way they view their body,” Escasa-Dorne said.

     One of the main goals of Escasa-Dorne’s project is to be able to perform international research to explore biological anthropology on a broader scale. Dorne plans on teaching a biological anthropology travel course to Amsterdam, which will focus on human reproduction and sexuality.

   Since Escasa-Dorne’s pilot program is still in the data collection phase, she can’t make a definitive conclusion about aging processes.

    “It would be interesting to see if there is variation that exists between two different culture’s estrogen levels and the traits we see during the aging process,” she said.

    “These traits can include everything from the color of our hair, our skin elasticity, bone density and even different reproductive cancers.”

    With funding from the UCCS Global Intercultural Research Center, Escasa-Dorne will revise her data for a questionnaire so she can collect more data for future projects.

    “Some questions that don’t translate quite as well include the fact that the Colorado Springs population, in general, had a lot less grandchildren. Part of the questionnaire is to do a survey on the number of grandchildren and birth spacing in households,” she said.

    “One of the issues in the Philippines is that they have way more children and grandchildren on average and a lot of my participants didn’t know the history of their grandchildren since many of them are living far away or moved out of the country.”

    Escasa-Dorne has studied her participants’ anthropometrics – measurements of the human body – body fat percentage, grip strength and frailty measurements.

     The team has not analyzed frailty measures yet; however, Escasa-Dorne expects Philipino women to be more active due to increased manual labor and physical activity. Her Colorado Springs participants might not reflect the general U.S. population, she said.

    A society’s culture can also have significant effects on a person’s biological makeup, including how many times a woman goes through pregnancy, if she breast feeds her children and if she has control over when and how many times she gets pregnant, according to Dorne.

    “We can hypothesize that a woman with less pregnancy and duration of breastfeeding, or if she has access to formula or goes back to work, has an influence over steroids produced in her lifetime,” she said.

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