New Report says Adult Obesity Rates are not Declining

A new report shows no improvement in  adult obesity rates in states across the country in the past year. Sixteen states saw increases in their rates according to the report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Twelve states now have obesity rates over 30%.

Pennsylvania’s adult obesity rate of 28.5% placed it 19th nationwide. The report says the state’s rate has increased 76% in the last 15 years. The report reviewed statistics from 1995 to 2010.   The state was tied for 13th in 1995 at 16.2%.

The report, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011”  says the obesity epidemic continues to be highest in the south.  Mississippi had the highest adult obesity rate for the seventh year in a row at 34.4%. The lowest rate, 19.8%, was in Colorado, the only state with a rate under 20 percent.

Dwayne Proctor, director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation childhood obesity team, says the rates are increasing over much of the United States in spite of all of the policy activity, media attention to the issue and efforts people are making.  He says they’re hoping to see results from those efforts soon. He says they’re optimistic they can reverse this epidemic.

Proctor says adult obesity is a very complicated problem.  He says the environments in which we live are affecting our ability to be physically active and to have access to healthy fresh foods and affordable fruits and vegetables.  He says the best way to shift the environment is to focus on policies that can bring grocery stores to areas that do not have them and can develop safe places for children to play and exercise.      He says Pennsylvania has been making policy efforts, including adding farm-to-school programs.

Proctor says if the country can make improvements in adult obesity rates, we could lower health care costs.  Obesity is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure  and other health problems.

State Senator Working on “Caylee’s Law”

The Casey Anthony trial is sparking a legislative effort in Pennsylvania. State Senator Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) plans to introduce “Caylee’s Law”, named after the Florida  girl who was missing a month before her disappearance was reported. The 2-year-old was later found dead.

Concealing the death of a child is only a first degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania right now.  Senator Farnese wants to change that to a third degree felony. The current penalty is a maximum of 5 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Raising the degree of the charge would increase the maximum sentence to 7 years and the fine to $15,000. Farnese says he was surprised to see concealing the death of a child is currently a minor offense in Pennsylvania.

Farnese also wants to add a new offense, neglecting to report a missing child, making it a first degree misdemeanor. He says they would want to consider the state of mind and the intent of a potential defendant.

He believes the state needs to move quickly in addressing this issue.  Farnese  hopes Congress will consider getting a national law on the books to make sure this never happens again. He says regardless of the jury’s verdict in the Anthony trial on the murder charges, most people agree the mother’s conduct following her child’s disappearance was shocking and reprehensible. He says we have to address the fact there’s nothing on the books right now to protect the children.

Casey Anthony was charged in the death of daughter, Caylee, but acquitted by a Florida jury of all charges except four counts of lying to authorities.


State Capitol Facing North Office Building

PA’s Industry Partnerships Program Now Permanent

The Industry Partnerships program attempts to match skilled workforce training to the industries and jobs that exist in the Keystone State.  Supporters say it will help to fill the gap that exists between the skills employers need and the skills that are available in the workforce.  “There’s nothing worse in the world than to train somebody for a job that doesn’t exist,” says Tony Ross, president of United Way of Pennsylvania.  Ross says that Governor Tom Corbett’s signature on SB 552 codifies the program, thus improving its long-term viability.

Mike Brubaker

State Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster)

The program dates back to 2005, and the Department of Labor & Industry reports that some 118,000 people have received training since that time.  “More than 6,300 businesses have taken part in more than 80-partnerships throughout the state,” adds State Senator Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster).  Brubaker was the prime sponsor of SB 552.  Pennsylvania’s Industry Partnerships program is also becoming a model for the rest of the nation. 

The new state budget includes about $1.6-million dollars for the program’s administration.  Tony Ross tells us another of the benefits is that it covers such a broad swath of industry.  “Everything from health care, to manufacturing, to Information Technology – you name it – any industry can access this opportunity.”

Both the State House and Senate voted unanimously to make the Industry Partnerships program permanent.  Governor Tom Corbett signed it – along with 45 other new laws – on Thursday.


New Law Protects PA Firefighters

Governor Tom Corbett’s signature on HB 797 ends firefighters’ 25-year battle.  President of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association, Art Martynuska, is ecstatic.  “Our men and women across the state – both career and volunteer – risk their lives on a daily basis, protecting the residents of Pennsylvania,” Martynuska tells us. 

The new law designates cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters in Pennsylvania.  For some types of cancer, Martynuska says, firefighters are at a 100% greater risk than members of the general public.

Previously, the onus was on the firefighter to prove that the cancer was caused by the cumulative effects of the job.  Now, the presumption is flipped.  But, Martynuska says the municipalities which pay for the workers compensation can still rebut: “Lifestyle things, heredity things, certain things of that nature would give [them options] to say no, it wasn’t a result of your exposure to products of combustion or hazardous materials.” 

Firefighters would have to meet certain conditions too.  For instance, they must have served at least four years of continuous firefighting duty, and they must have a prior cancer-free physical exam. 

A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Ed Rendell in 2010, but Martynuska says they’ve since sat down with the municipal groups who were expressing concerns with the bill.  HB 797 passed both chambers of the legislature with near unanimous support, and it takes effect immediately.  In all, Governor Tom Corbett signed 46 bills into law on Thursday.

PennDOT Posts the Help Wanted Signs for Winter

We may be in the heat of July, but PennDOT is looking ahead to winter.  The help wanted signs are up for the Winter Maintenance Program.

The program, whichs runs from September into early April, hires transportation equipment operators and diesel mechanics to help remove snow and ice and maintain the equipment used for the job.

PennDOT spokesman Dennis Buterbaugh says a lot of people may not realize that when the winter season hits, PennDOT does not have enough of a complement of people to get out and plow the roads. They’re seeking people who have Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) or who are certified diesel mechanics. There are also other seasonal positions available at some in some of PennDOT’s districts.

Buterbaugh  says they often see people who are construction and heavy equipment drivers during the summer seek snow removal positions in the winter.

People who are interested in a temporary position can call their local PennDOT office to see which jobs are available in their area.  More information on the Winter Maintenance Program is available at Penndot’s web site under Non-student Winter Maintenance Opportunities, including a link to apply.

PLCB Posts Record Sales for Fiscal 2010-11

State Wine and Spirits store sales neared the two billion mark for the fiscal year that ended  June 30. Sales topped $1.9 billion for the first time,  posting a 4 % increase over the previous year. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board  Chairman Patrick (P J) Stapleton III says those sales generated almost 500 million dollars in sales tax, liquor tax and profit transfers to the state’s General Fund, also a record number.

Stapleton says that’s remarkable considering we’re coming out of a severe recession. He adds they also chose not to raise prices for much of the year, in the best interest of consumers. He says consumers are still “buying down” a little, but the LCB is starting to see some signs that may be reversing. He says until they’re assured the trend is reversing, they’ll probably continue to keep pricing where it is.

Stapleton says the LCB has engaged in a consumer-focused business program, increasing customer service training for employees and changing the layout of stores.  He adds they’ve been able to obtain pricing opportunities from their suppliers and partners.

Stapleton says they’re also seeing less “border bleed” ( people crossing the state line to buy liquor in a neighboring state) along the New Jersey border, because that state has changed the way it taxes wine and spirits. He says the same is happening in Maryland and he thinks there’s less “border bleed” into Delaware.

Stapleton says he’s proud of the fact that their 5,000 employees have done a fabulous job of being able to return a half a billion dollars to the Commonwealth.  He says they’re able to do that while being responsible sellers of wine and spirits.

Critics, such as the Commonwealth Foundation, say more than 80% of the transfers to the General Fund are sales and liquor taxes that would go to the state even if the PLCB did not exist, and state coffers will never see the millions of dollars lost in “border bleed”.

Stapleton says the PLCB also transferred more than $20 million to State Police for liquor enforcement, while the Bureau of Alcohol Education awarded grants to combat underage and dangerous drinking.

Gettysburg Monument

Civil War Trading Cards a Hit with Young Park Visitors

Gettysburg National Military Park and a host of other national parks, with Civil War ties, are engaging kids with trading cards that depict the pictures and stories of the Civil War.  “It was an idea that came from our northeast regional office to try to engage younger visitors in the national parks, and find a way to reward them for going out on programs with rangers,” says Gettysburg National Military Park spokesperson Katie Lawhon.

Gettysburg National Military Park has eight trading cards that are specific to it.  “We have the George Meade and Robert E. Lee cards, as you might expect, the two commanders of the Union and Confederate armies here.  But, we have a couple of places out on the battlefield that have cards as well,” Lawhon tells us.  Other Gettysburg cards include the 9th Massachusetts Battery and the Gettysburg Address.  “Just like the old baseball cards, where you can learn a little bit about the player, these cards tell you a little bit about the story.” 

Lowell National Historical Park Civil War Trading Cards

Pictured are the Five Civil War Trading Cards Being Offered at Lowell National Historical Park, in Lowell, MA

At least 23 National Park Service sites are participating with at least 189 cards.  Lawhon even tells us that if you show one park’s cards at another participating park, you can receive a commemorative backpack.  It’s all a part of the National Park Service’s Civil War 150 commemoration (Pennsylvania is also marking the sesquicentennial).  Lawhon says it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage new, younger audiences. 

The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Ft. Sumter, April 12th, 1861.  The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg will be in 2013.

Colon Cancer Rates in United States Fall as Screenings Rise

Prevention efforts are having an impact on the second most deadly cancer in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says colon cancer deaths are down and more progress is possible.   

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden says colon cancer rates have decreased by more than 10% over the past five years.  The Vital Signs report, which looked specifically at the rate of deaths between 2003 and 2007, shows a more than 2% drop nationally.

Between 2002 and 2010, the rate of screenings increased by 13%. But the report says 1 in 3 people between the ages of 50 and 75 are still not up to date with the recommended screening. Dr. Frieden says as more doctors are clearer with their patients about the importance of screening , that will make a big impact on patients.  He says the strongest risk factor for not being screened, is not being told to be screened by your doctor.

Dr. Frieden says you should be screened if you are between the ages of 50 or 75, or if you have a strong family history of the disease.   Screenings include annual fecal occult blood tests done at home, a flexible sigmoidoscopy done every five years,  or a colonoscopy done every 10 years.

Dr. Frieden says he has a strong family history of colorectal cancer  and was first screened with a colonoscopy at age 40. He says his first screening was normal, but during the next screening at age 50, four polyps were found.  All were removed before they became cancerous.

Dr. Frieden says colon cancer screening can save your life, and more and more Americans are taking advantage  of the screening.

The full report is available at

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.


Arts Funding Dodges Significant Budget Cuts

Funded at $8.1-million dollars in the new state budget, the “Grants to the Arts” line item represents a tiny fraction of the $27.15-billion dollar spending plan.  But, supporters say that small investment brings back a huge return.  “If you include all arts related spending, about 62,000 full-time equivalent jobs are created annually,” says Jenny Hershour, managing director of Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania.  “It also generates economic activity around $2-billion dollars a year… so it’s an economic generator,” Hershour tells us.

While funding is still down slightly from last year’s $8.4-million dollar appropriation, it’s a vast improvement from the more than 70% cuts that House Republicans called for in their first budget counterproposal.  Hershour credits grassroots advocacy with preserving the funding:  “I think the General Assembly understands the importance of these very small grants that go to arts organizations, and the very large impact that it has on their constituents.”

First Lady Susan Corbett

First Lady Susan Corbett with Governor Tom Corbett

Pennsylvania’s First Lady Susan Corbett chairs the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.  She has served on the council since 1999.  When asked about arts funding on Radio PA’s monthly “Ask the Governor” program (prior to the final budget) Governor Tom Corbett quickly sided with his wife over the House Republican budget plan.  “There is a significant return on investment… in tourism dollars, in growing art in Pennsylvania; whether it be in the community, in the schools or wherever,” Corbett said. 

The arts grants are used for a variety of programs in all 67-counties.