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Cry Baby
Cyber Predators
Fighting Fat

Illustrations by Daniel Frey

Cry Baby

By Sharon Keeler

Nothing is more distressing for parents than an infant who won't stop crying. All babies cry; it's their way of communicating what they need. But some babies seem to cry excessively and are difficult to console. When an exam reveals no obvious problem, the condition is called "infant colic."

An infant is considered colicky if she or he is under three months old and cries for at least three hours a day for more than three weeks. The crying behavior peaks at eight to 10 weeks of age and subsides at four to five months.

Because crying is understood as a signal of distress and is associated with facial expressions thought to be related to pain, parents often assume there is something wrong or abnormal with their child. Previous explanations for infant colic -- that the child has an allergy or intolerance to cow's milk, an immature gastrointestinal system or a difficult temperament, or that there is a problem in the way the child and parents interact -- have not yielded clear answers when studied scientifically.

Recent research by Barbara Prudhomme White '78, assistant professor of occupational therapy, suggests that there may be nothing wrong with colicky babies. In a study examining infant daily behavior journals, as well as behavioral and physiological responses to a planned stressful event (a pretend well-baby exam) in 40 infant pairs, the results suggest that colicky infants are no more stressed physiologically than their noncolicky peers.

"This study suggests that, at least for the first few months of life, crying might not always indicate distress or pain," White says. "It may merely be a signal to communicate needs to caregivers."

The behavioral diaries kept by parents also revealed that the colicky infants had less well-defined sleep/awake patterns and a less well-established circadian (day-night) marker of maturity -- the hormone cortisol -- when compared to noncolicky babies.

White's research supports a more recent view of colic that suggests these infants may simply be exceptionally good signalers of their needs. Their crying reflects robust health, which enables them to cry for longer times without substantial metabolic cost.

"The cause of colic, then, may be a mix of infant characteristics, including a normal instability of circadian-linked functions such as sleep/awake patterns, matched with a caregiving environment that is not necessarily in tune with the infant's demands," White explains. "In non-Westernized cultures where an infant is kept close to a parent nearly 24 hours a day for the first few months and is fed on demand, the concept of colic is unfamiliar."

The message for parents: Although a colicky infant is difficult to care for, he or she is healthy. The biggest mistake parents can make is to assume that colicky behavior extends into childhood, White says. "By expecting irritable behavior, parents may subtly enable it later on. Instead, they should view the crying as a sign that their baby is strong and healthy and take comfort in knowing that it won't go on forever."


Cyber Predators

By Tracy Manforte '92

One out of four children who used the Internet regularly last year was exposed to unwanted pornography, and nearly one in five received unwanted sexual solicitations, according to a national survey by researchers at UNH's Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC). Few of these incidents were reported to authorities, and more than half were not disclosed to parents.

The study, Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation's Youth, by sociology professor David Finkelhor, CCRC director, and colleagues Kimberly Mitchell '78G and Janis Wolak '95G, not only records statistics, but offers suggestions for a safer cyberworld.

The findings illustrate the need to pay closer attention to the habits of youth online, says Finkelhor, who presented the study to Congress last spring. "Because the Internet is likely to become so important in our lives, it is crucial to begin to confront its potential problems as early as possible," he explains.

According to the study, during the past year, 19 percent of regular Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 received unwanted online requests to engage in sexual activities or to provide intimate sexual information. In 15 percent of such incidents, the solicitor attempted to contact the youth in person, over the telephone or by mail. While none of the solicited youth who were interviewed actually suffered sexual assault or sexual abuse as a result of these episodes, 25 percent of them reported being very upset or frightened. Most of these exposures were the result of opening links or misspelling Web addresses. A quarter were the result of e-mail or instant messages.

Part of the challenge, says Finkelhor, is that many kids are more computer savvy than their parents. "A strategy that may help parents to find out what their child is seeing on the Internet is to tolerate being the dummy and let the child show them around while they ask a lot of questions."

The study recommends that government and law enforcement agencies ask young people to help plan Internet protection strategies. "Young people are the Internet experts. They know the most about the culture and standards of Internet behavior," Finkelhor continues. "They are in the best position to propose how to influence and change it."

Another safeguard against offensive online encounters is to install filtering and blocking software, which screens out certain sexually oriented Web sites or language. Despite high levels of parental concern, the study finds only one-third of families actually used any filtering or blocking software, including products made available by Internet service providers. The report urges better understanding of why families bypass these protections.

Finkelhor does not want to exaggerate online danger, but he hopes the report elicits a response. "Safety online is a joint responsibility," he says. "It's not just kids and parents who should bear the burden, though. Industry, government, law enforcement and the community as a whole need to be responsible as well."


Fighting Fat

By Sharon Keeler

If you think you can eat whatever you want and then work the extra calories off at the gym, you're in for an unpleasant surprise. Research by a UNH nutritional biochemist shows that overindulgence at the dinner table actually makes it harder to burn up fat through exercise.

Fat cells, the storage tanks for the body's energy supply, hoard excess calories until the muscles need them. When we exercise, they become more sensitive to the hormones, such as epinephrine, that tell them to release energy. "This process, called lipolysis, provides fuel for movement, shrinks the cell and reduces body fat," says Gale Carey, UNH associate professor of animal and nutritional sciences.

Adenosine, a natural hormone, is believed to slow the breakdown of fat to ensure our fuel supplies are rationed efficiently. Carey's research has shown that exercise dampens the cells' response to adenosine by reducing the number of the receptors adenosine binds onto.

Her newest study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, looks more closely at this cellular mechanism by adding diet to the equation. Carey wanted to know how a diet high in calories but low in fat would affect fat metabolism. She also wanted to figure out the mechanism that eliminates some adenosine-binding receptors.

Carey conducted her research with the help of 24 miniature swine. The animals are excellent models because their metabolism resembles that of humans. And they can provide blood and tissue samples without compromising their health.

The pigs were divided into four groups: "restricted-fed sedentary," "restricted-fed exercised," "full-fed sedentary" and "full-fed exercised." The exercised pigs were trained to run on a treadmill for 45 minutes a day, five days a week, while the pigs on a restricted diet were fed 25 percent less food than the others.

Carey used a technique called microdialysis, which involves placing a tiny probe directly into the fat tissue, allowing her to study the tissue in its natural environment. Carey found that the exercised animals on restricted diets had smaller fat cells with fewer adenosine receptors and gave up their stored fat more easily than cells from the other groups, including the full-fed but fit swine. This suggests that eating too much dampens the effects of exercise.

"We hypothesize that the body reacts to the excess levels of epinephrine released during exercise by counter-releasing adenosine to prevent the cells from depleting their fat," Carey explains. "But the signal is so loud that the fat cells respond to this extra adenosine by lowering the number of receptors. "It's as if you lived on a busy street, so you shut the window to block the noise. In our experiment, adenosine levels were higher, but the receptor number in the exercised, restricted-fed pigs dropped from 310 to 180, a 42 percent decrease. The exercised, full-fed pigs saw a decrease of only 14 percent." In other words, the pigs that were fed less burned more fat when they exercised.

Carey hopes her findings will help the medical community understand how the human body metabolizes fat. "Obesity is a major health problem, and factors such as diet and exercise are known to influence its onset," Carey says. "Understanding how these variables affect obesity at the molecular level will help us understand why some people cannot break down fat as readily as others."

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