Spicing Up Diet May Be Healthier Than You Think

New research shows certain antioxidants may reduce the negative effects of high fat meals.  Researchers at Penn State compared two meals. One meal used about two tablespoons of antioxidant spices and the other did not. Dr. Sheila West, associate professor of biobehavioral health and nutritional sciences at Penn State, says they found less of the fat ended up in the blood stream of those eating the spiced meal.

West says they found a reduced absorption of triglycerides in those eating the spiced meal, plus a positive effect on insulin in the blood compared to those who ate the meal without the spices.

The spices and herbs used were rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika.

West says the herbs and spices were spread among the three items in the meal. The meal consisted of a dessert, bread and chicken curry.

 West says the spices and herbs were selected because a previous study indicated when you add spices to ground beef and grill it, you produce less of the cancer-causing oxidative stress markers in the meat.  When people eat it, there are less of those chemicals in the blood.

West says the research is in its infancy, so they want to do more investigation. She wants to look at individual herbs and spices to see what the major contributor is, and what the right “dose” would be.

West says the early research shows it wouldn’t hurt to spice up your diet, because unlike some other antioxidants, these spices add little in the way of calories to your diet.

The McCormick Science Institute and the National Institutes of Health supported the work.


Locally Owned Small Business May Pack a Bigger Economic Punch

Dr. Stephan Goetz

Small, locally owned businesses and start-up companies tend to provide higher, long term economic growth according to Dr. Stephan Goetz,professor of agricultural and regional economics at Penn State University and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development.  Dr. Goetz and graduate student David Fleming were investigating whether firm ownership and size mattered in terms of economic growth.

Dr. Goetz says the research suggests that the smaller firms and locally owned firms give the biggest bang for the buck in terms of economic growth.

 Dr. Goetz says they suspect there are more opportunities for creative innovation and new process and product development in the smaller companies.  He says over time, you have more of an entrepreneurial hotbed if you have multiple smaller firms that are trying to innovate, than if you have the bigger firms.

Dr. Geotz adds that smaller, local firms would be more likely to use local logistic providers, wholesalers and advertising outlets to meet their supply chain and business needs. He says firms based out-of-state would be providing those services out of centrally located facilities, or outsourcing them overseas.

The study also finds that as a company grows, the economic benefit appears to diminish. Medium and large-sized locally owned businesses were not associated with faster economic growth in later years.

Dr. Goetz says a better strategy to promote economic growth may be encouraging local businesses and creating an environment that attracts local entrepreneurs.

Capitol Rotunda - Facing House Chamber

State Budget’s Education Cuts Scrutinized

It’s a budget that represents shared sacrifices, and president of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children Joan Benso says kids are sharing a big chunk of the sacrifice.  Benso’s budget reaction is somewhat mixed.  For instance she says the $100-million dollar restoration for Accountability Block Grants will be helpful.  “But for example… in Harrisburg, their school board voted to go back to part-day K, the restoration simply isn’t enough,” Benso says.  The Accountability Block Grants are used in large part to fund full-day kindergarten programs across the state.  Governor Tom Corbett’s original budget proposal would have eliminated them.  Lawmakers worked to restore $100-million of last year’s $259-million dollar line item. 

The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) – the state’s largest teachers union – is lamenting what they calculate to be $860-million dollars in cuts to public education.  “We’re very concerned about the consequences this is going to have on student performance,” says PSEA spokesman David Broderic.  “Pennsylvania students in public schools have made dramatic gains in student performance in the past six years, and part of that has to do with resources being directed at programs that work.” 

State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis

State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis

The “Basic Education Funding” line item will receive $5.35– billion dollars this year.  Last year’s appropriation included $4.73-billion state dollars, in addition to roughly a billion federal stimulus dollars, which are no longer available.  “States were warned not to use that money in a way that would create long-term obligations, and unfortunately that’s exactly what Pennsylvania did,” says state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis.  As the new budget forces the state to live within its means, Tomalis says the education system will have to do the same.  Overall, public education and K – 12 educational programs will receive $10.1-billion dollars in FY2012. 

State Senator Jake Corman

State Senator Jake Corman (R-Centre)

Higher education was projected to receive a 50% state funding cut, according to Governor Tom Corbett’s March 8th budget proposal.  Those figures have since been mitigated to 18% cuts to the 14-universities in the State System of Higher Education, 19% cuts to the state related universities (PSU, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln).  The State System’s board has already approved a 7.5% tuition hike for the new school year.  Even more recently, Temple became the first state related university to approve a new budget.  It calls for a 10% tuition increase.  Penn State’s trustees will set new tuition rates next Friday (July 15th).  The higher education funding issue isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.  “I think that we should take the summer and the fall to get a better understanding of some of these issues, and then be prepared for next year when the budget comes around again,” says State Senator Jake Corman, who chairs the Appropriations Committee.  The Centre County Republican also represents State College, which is – of course – home to Penn State University.

Democrats Take Their Swing

    Outnumbered in both the House and Senate, Democrats in Harrisburg have just one bullet in their gun, and on Monday they pulled the trigger.

    In both the House and Senate, Democrats blocked passage of several non-preferred spending bills associated with the state-related universities, which include Penn State, Pitt, Temple, Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania. The schools would have to endure 18-19% cuts to their state funding under the bills, but the negative votes by Democrats could put 100% of the funding at risk.

    The move was possible because non-preferred appropriations bills require passage by a 2-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate.

    Republicans characterized the move as a dangerous game of chicken, and say the negative votes could stall the funding until at least this fall or beyond. Democrats say they rejected the funding to hold out for further restoration of cuts to the schools. The latest proposals had restored hundreds of millions of dollars from Governor Tom Corbett’s original plan to trim the universities’ funding by more than 50%.

    Democrats want to tap into this year’s estimated $600-700 million in additional revenue collections to restore the cuts. Failure to pass funding for the state-supported universities would not stand in the way of passage of the overall General Fund budget plan, which is expected to get its first vote on the Senate floor as early as today.

New Website Simplifies Process for Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

A new website is on line to provide statewide resources for reporting and preventing child abuse.  It’s a joint effort of Penn State’s College of Medicine, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and School of Law.

Look Out for Child Abuse” is designed to be a one stop resource for completing a CY-47 form, Pennsylvania’s official form for reporting suspected abuse. A video on the site walks a person through the process step-by-step, helping users compose a detailed easy-to-read report. The forms will still have to be printed and sent to the appropriate county children and youth agency.  However, a pilot program will be tested with Cumberland County Children and Youth Service for a form that could be submitted electronically.

The website  also includes legal information, resources for victims and educational tools. Dr. Benjamin Levi, professor of pediatrics and humanities at the Penn State College of Medicine, says one of the  things they’ve tried to do, is to make the website very accessible to lots of people for lots of different reasons. He says the opening page includes a site map that will allow people to navigate easily and quickly.

Dr. Levi says the goal is to make the reporting information widely available.  He says Pennsylvania is one of the lowest reporting states in the country for child abuse.  He says the rate is less than half of the national average and presumably that’s not because there are fewer children being abused in Pennsylvania, it’s because people don’t report as often.

Dr. Harold Paz, CEO of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, says we recognize the problem of child abuse is not simply a medical problem, or a legal problem. He says it’s an issue that affects children across the Commonwealth and we need to make creative and collaborative approaches if we’re going to be able to stop abuse.

Former Pennsylvania First Lady Michele Ridge is a member of Vision of Hope’s Advisory Council for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. She says child sexual abuse is a serious problem. She says protecting children from sexual  abuse is a shared responsibility. Mrs. Ridge  says these critical new tools through “Look Out for Child Abuse” will help them achieve their goal.

Ridge says all of us must work together by joining the fight to help protect the hopes and dreams of our children.

The site address is

* Photo courtesy of “Look Out for Child Abuse” website.


PA Budget Debate

State Budget Battle Shifts to Senate Side of the Capitol

The budget bill’s next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee, following this week’s largely party line vote in the State House.  Senate Appropriations chair Jake Corman (R-Centre) tells us they’ll spend the next week or so reviewing the legislation, and hope to have an action plan by the first or second week of June.  When asked about the $27.3-billion dollar bottom line, Corman said, “We’re certainly not locked into any number.  It could go lower, it could go higher.” One of the most contentious parts of this week’s House budget debate was what to do with this year’s revenue, which has so far exceeded expectations to the tune of $500-million dollars. 

On the issue of higher education, the House budget bill would fund the 14-State System schools at 85% of the current year’s appropriation.  State Related Universities (like Penn State and Pitt) would receive 75% of the current year’s funding.  While this compares favorably to the roughly 50% cuts that Governor Tom Corbett proposed in March, Corman says he’d like to do even better and show some parity between the State System and State Related universities.  “We’ll review that to see where monies are available… but the House did a pretty good job in showing commitment to higher ed,” Corman says.  Senator Corman’s 34th Senatorial District includes State College Borough, the home of Penn State University

Corman says, overall, the House did a good job crafting a budget.  “The Senate will have a different set of priorities I’m sure, and we’ll put our stamp on it.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that we disagree with what they did, just that we maybe have different priorities.”  The process will result in a Senate version of the budget, from which legislative leaders and the Corbett Administration can negotiate.  Like all legislative leaders, Corman is well aware of the June 30th budget deadline.  “The people of Pennsylvania have been put through enough over the past eight years,” he says.  The budget process is currently running ahead of schedule.


PSU Leads Multidisciplinary Effort to Save Honeybees

Researchers from seven universities, beekeepers in every state, economists, epidemiologists and others have joined the Bee Informed PartnershipSenior extension associate at Penn State Dennis vanEngelsdorp is leading the project, and tells us honeybees are essential to agriculture. “About one in every three bites of food we eat is either directly or indirectly pollinated by honeybees,” he says. 

The problem is that for the past five years, an average of 30% of honeybee colonies are being lost overwinter.  “That means about one in every three colonies dies every single winter for the past five winters,” vanEngelsdorp says.  He tells us most beekeepers would be happy if they lost about 15% of their colonies.  So the goal of the Bee Informed Partnership is to cut the mortality rate in half, over the next five years. 

Beekeepers are now being surveyed on how many bees they’ve lost, and what management practices they used last year.  “Even though the average is 30%, some beekeepers are losing more than 50% and some are losing less than 10%,” vanEngelsdorp tells us.  The Partnership will share the ‘best practices,’ as determined by their research, to help beekeepers manage their hives.

The Bee Informed Partnership is a five year, $5-million dollar nationwide program, funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.