Free HIV testing for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

The Baltimore County Department of Health will hold additional free HIV testing clinics, in recognition of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day NBHAAD).

February 7, 2014 marks the 14th year for NBHAAD, a national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization initiative targeted at blacks in the United States and the Diaspora. There are four specific focal points: education, testing, involvement and treatment. The focus is to get blacks educated about the basics of HIV/AIDS in their local communities. Testing is at the core of this initiative, as it is hoped that blacks will mark February 7 of every year as their annual or biannual day to get tested for HIV.

“We are definitely working to decrease the disparity of HIV cases in the African American community,” said Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, director of the Department of Health and Human Services. “But irrespective of race, everyone 13 to 64 should get tested annually.”

For more information about Baltimore County’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day or the regularly scheduled HIV testing clinics, call: 410-887-2437 or visit:

Federal funds available for free summer meals

— The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has announced that federal funds are available to assist public and private nonprofit agencies in serving free nutritious meals and snacks to children this summer through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

Over 370,000 Maryland children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, but do not have access to school meals during the summer. For every 100 children that participate in school meals during the school year, only 18.3 participate in a summer nutrition program.

The SFSP bridges the nutrition gap that exists between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. Meals and snacks must meet federal nutrition guidelines.

“The Summer Food Service Program is a vital resource for families that may be struggling with hunger. The program provides nutritious meals and snacks so children can learn, grow, and play. It helps children return to school ready to learn because they have received the proper nutrition needed during the summer months,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery.

The SFSP provides reimbursement to organizations for meals and snacks served to children in areas where at least 50 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program, or when 50 percent of the children enrolled in a program qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Most organizations may be reimbursed for up to two meals or snacks per child per day. Migrant programs and camps may be reimbursed for up to three meals per child per day.

The Program is open to children and teens age 18 and under and to individuals over 18 who are mentally or physically disabled. Interested organizations should contact MSDE at 410-767-0225. The deadline for applications is May 30, 2014. For information about the program, visit:

The Maryland State Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are equal opportunity employers and providers.

Volunteers needed to join fight against hunger

— Proper nutrition is one of the major necessities for the human body. In order to effectively function and accomplish our daily tasks, we must be adequately nourished. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that there are an estimated 842 million malnourished or undernourished individuals worldwide and over 50 million U.S citizens unable to consume the right diet needed to lead a healthy lifestyle. Statistics show that hunger kills more people every year than AIDs, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined. We must work together to end hunger; starting with a focus at the micro level, within our communities.

Through a recent partnership with the Maryland Food Bank and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), sponsored by Baltimore County Department of Aging, new volunteer opportunities have sprouted for interested Baltimore County citizens to donate their time to sustaining food distribution operations at the Maryland Food Bank. Because the Maryland Food Bank relies solely on its’ volunteers to sort and package the goods at their warehouse, volunteer assistance is continuously needed. Without the selflessness of their volunteers, the Maryland Food Bank would not be able to effectively distribute food to the approximate 600,000 Marylanders that it serves on a weekly basis.

Currently, there is an urgent need for volunteers to provide assistance at their facility located at 2200 Halethorpe Farms Rd., Baltimore, MD 21227. Up to 2,400 fresh meals are prepared each day at this location; help is needed to sort food products and package the prepared meals prior to freezing and distribution. Daytime shifts are available Monday-Saturday, and evening shifts Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Become a part of a great team today and help the Maryland Food Bank as they continue their mission to “lead the movement and nurture the belief that together we can improve the lives of Marylanders by ending hunger.”

If you are interested in pursuing a promising volunteer position to end local hunger and join the Maryland Food Bank/RSVP team, contact the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) at 410-887-3101 or email  

Study: Sugar can make you fat and sick

— In recent years, sugar — more so than fat — has been receiving the bulk of the blame for our deteriorating health.

Most of us know we consume more sugar than we should. Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to.

The (new) bad news is that sugar does more damage to our bodies than we originally thought. It was once considered to be just another marker for an unhealthy diet and obesity. Now sugar is considered an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as well as many other chronic diseases, according a study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Sugar has adverse health effects above any purported role as ‘empty calories’ promoting obesity,” writes Laura Schmidt, a professor of health policy in the School of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, in an accompanying editorial. “Too much sugar doesn’t just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”

But how much is too much? Turns out not nearly as much as you may think. As a few doctors and scientists have been screaming for a while now, a little bit of sugar goes a long way.

Added sugars, according to most experts, are far more harmful to our bodies than naturally-occurring sugars. We’re talking about the sugars used in processed or prepared foods like sugar-sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, candy, ready-to-eat cereal and yeast breads. Your fruits and (natural) fruit juices are safe.

Recommendations for your daily allotment of added sugar vary widely:

— The Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugars make up less than 25% of your total calories

— The World Health Organization recommends less than 10%

— The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories daily for men

The U.S. government hasn’t issued a dietary limit for added sugars, like it has for calories, fats, sodium, etc. Furthermore, sugar is classified by the Food and Drug administration as “generally safe,” which allows manufacturers to add unlimited amounts to any food.

“There is a difference between setting the limit for nutrients or other substances in food and setting limits for what people should be consuming,” an FDA spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “FDA does not set limits for what people should be eating.”

“With regard to setting a regulatory limit for added sugar in food, FDA would carefully consider scientific evidence in determining whether regulatory limits are needed, as it would for other substances in food.”

There is some good news. While the mean percentage of calories consumed from added sugars increased from 15.7% in 1988-1994 to 16.8% in 1999-2004, it actually decreased to 14.9% between 2005 and 2010. But most adults still consumed 10% or more of their calories from added sugar and about 1 in 10 people consumed 25% or more of their calories from sugar during the same time period.

Participants in the study who consumed approximately 17 to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared with those who consumed approximately 8% of calories from added sugar, the study authors concluded.

“This relative risk was more than double for those who consumed 21% or more of calories from added sugar,” they wrote.

Schmidt writes that these new findings “provide physicians and consumers with actionable guidance. Until federal guidelines are forthcoming, physicians may want to caution patients that, to support cardiovascular health, it’s safest to consume less than 15% of their daily calories from added sugar.”

That’s the equivalent, Schmidt points out, of drinking one 20-ounce Mountain Dew soda in a 2,000-calorie diet.

“From there, the risk rises exponentially as a function of increased sugar intake,” she writes.

In a statement, the American Beverage Association said the study “shows that adult consumption of added sugars has actually declined, as recently reported by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

“A significant part of that reduction is from decreased added sugars from beverages due, in part, to our member companies’ ongoing innovation in providing more low- and no-calorie options. Furthermore, this is an observational study which cannot — and does not — show that cardiovascular disease is caused by drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Despite our changing scientific understanding and a growing body of evidence on sugar overconsumption as an independent risk factor in chronic disease, sugar regulation remains an uphill battle in the United States. This is contrasted by the increased frequency of regulation abroad, where 15 countries now have taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

“‘Sin taxes,’ whether on tobacco, alcohol, or sugar-laden products, are popular because they are easy to enforce and generate revenue, with a well-documented evidence base supporting their effectiveness for lowering consumption,” writes Schmidt.

But forget about the short-term monetary cost. Before you reach for that next sugary treat, think long and hard about the long-term cost to your health.

O’Malley preparing ‘ground work’ for potential 2016 run

— Gov. Martin O’Malley told reporters on Monday that while he is focused on his last year as governor, he is also weighing the possibility of a presidential run in 2016.

“Leadership is important and we will have a need for a new leader once President Obama’s term in office is over,” O’Malley said. “So, I have been preparing in terms of the tough work, the policy work, the ground work necessary to offer a better direction for our country.”

The governor added that while he is “not here to make an announcement,” he has been “giving the thought time and the preparation to a better way forward for our country for the next eight years.”

O’Malley, who was at St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore for an event focused on raising the minimum wage, has been the focus of 2016 speculation since he told The Washington Post on Saturday that while he has “a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton,” he can’t wait for the former secretary of state and prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016 to decide whether she will run.

“For my own part, I have a responsibility to prepare and to address the things that I feel a responsibility to address,” he told the Post. “To squander this important period of preparation because of horse-race concerns and handicapping concerns is just not a very productive use of energy.”

O’Malley confirmed what he said in the Post, but he told reporters on Monday that he wasn’t interested in detailing how prominently Clinton will weigh in his decision making process.

“I am not really about the handicapping in this, I will leave that to you all and to others. I am about the thought work necessary,” the governor said. “No one ever goes down this road without giving it a lot of consideration and a lot of preparation and a lot of thought work. And so that is what I am doing.”

Should O’Malley run in 2016, he finds himself as a dark horse candidate in a field dominated by Clinton. In last month’s Washington Post/ABC News poll, O’Malley didn’t register as one of the candidates Democrats would choose for 2016. In a November 2013 CNN/ ORC International Poll, 2% of Democrats said they would like to see O’Malley nominated for president in 2016.

On the other hand, Clinton — who has yet to declare her candidacy and says she is still mulling a run — has held historic leads over her possible Democratic challengers. In the recent Washington Post/ ABC News poll, 73% of Democrats said they would nominate her to run for the White House in 2016.


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Bruno Mars and Radio Shack bail out a lame Super Bowl

— Sunday night’s Super Bowl was awful.

Like, really awful. No drama, no tension. Just one-sided, coma-inducing football, interrupted by mostly one-dimensional, coma-inducing commercials. Budweiser’s pluck-a-guy-out-of-nowhere-and-turn-his-world-upside-down spots felt forced, inauthentic. Tim Tebow’s ads were quirky, but not so interesting. There were the predictable odes to fast cars and cold drinks and large-breasted women driving fast while drinking cold.




Thank goodness for Radio Shack.

Yes, Radio Shack. A store 78.5 percent of Americans couldn’t locate on a map. A store that feels as outdated as legwarmers and “Saved By the Bell.” A store that … brought us pure commercial genius.

In an advertisement titled, “The ’80s Called: They Want Their Store Back,” a who’s who of iconic 1980s figures storm a Radio Shack, yanking out every piece of dated equipment and loading the haul into the “Back to the Future” DeLorean. There’s Erik Estrada and Kid ‘n Play; John Oates and Mary Lou Retton; Dee Snyder (in full Twisted Sister garb) and the Alf puppet. It’s a perfect, spot-on piece of commercial creativity, and I’ve now watched it on YouTube at least a half-dozen times.

But it was one of the few exceptions among the ads, that — like the four unyielding quarters of football hell — left me feeling let down and disappointed as I flipped off the TV. This year’s commercials had more star power than ever before, with appearances ranging from Ellen DeGeneres and Ben Kingsley to Andy Samberg and Terry Crews. And yet … the names seemed to replace the creativity.

In particular, Budweiser — always a player when it comes to salesmanship — dressed Arnold Schwarzenegger up as some sort of 1970s table tennis competitor. And it was brutal. Just brutal. Not funny, not creative. Dumb.

But there were still some winners among these losers. Here’s a look at both

Winner: Cheerios. Last year General Mills ran an advertisement for its marquee cereal that featured an interracial couple. There was a ton of feedback, and much anger from the nation’s racist idiots. So how does the company fight back? By running another ad with the same couple and this time they’re expecting a baby. Bravo.

Loser: Ford and Rob Riggle. All of the car company’s spots were painful. Rob Riggle was fantastic on the Daily Show, but completely unfunny here. There came a point during one of the ads, which also featured James Franco sleepwalking through, where I noticed my entire family staring blankly at the screen, wondering what the hell was going on.

Winner: Toyota’s Muppets spots were quite good, but mainly because the Muppets are almost always good. That said, do 20% of Americans recognize their fellow passenger, actor Terry Crews? Probably not.

Loser: Subway. There is no corporation in America that puts out consistently less sensible ads than the sandwich company, which used a bevy of former Olympians while failing to identify them. I’m a sports writer. I’ve been a sports writer for 20 years. But would I know Nastia Liukin were she knocking on my door? Probably not. Same situation here.

Winner: Bruno Mars. One of the most energetic halftime shows ever. Early on in his career, it was easy to dismiss Mars as merely another pop tart. Yet with Sunday’s wonderful output, it’s time we start discussing Mars along the soulful likes of Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. He’s that good, and showed it again.

Loser: Anyone who purchased expensive ad time in the fourth quarter of one of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history. Nobody was watching. Nobody.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeff Pearlman.

AT&T cuts wireless prices

— AT&T has launched a new volley in the battle between mobile phone providers.

The company announced new price cuts for family plans and offered additional discounts for new customers.

And in an apparent effort to keep its own customers from departing to other carriers, AT&T also extended the discounts to its current customers who renew. It offered a one-time $100 credit toward their bill for each new line registered with AT&T.

The plans are for customers who shell out for smartphones.

The company called the offer its best-ever. It estimated monthly savings between $40 and $100 for a family of four. A plan that includes 10GB of data, unlimited minutes and unlimited texting would cost $160 per month.

Similar offers are available for $260 per month at Verizon Wireless, at least $220 per month at Sprint, and $140 per month at T-Mobile, according to information on each company’s website.

With cell phones largely ubiquitous, providers are finding themselves cannibalizing each other for new customers.

AT&T is the No. 2 wireless carrier behind leader Verizon Wireless. AT&T has been under direct assault from T-Mobile, the No. 3 carrier that has eliminated contracts, cut rates and increased upgrade frequency.

Just this year, AT&T and T-Mobile have gone head-to-head fighting for customers. AT&T offered T-Mobile customers who switch $450 in credit. T-Mobile countered that with a similar offer amounting to $650.

Steamrolled: Seattle Seahawks flatten Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl

— Super Bowl XLVIII started out bad for the Denver Broncos. The Seattle Seahawks made sure it got worse.

Seattle romped 43-8 by playing a suffocating defense and taking advantage of four Denver turnovers, including two interceptions thrown by quarterback Peyton Manning, the NFL’s most valuable player for the season.

The game pitted pro football’s best offense, Denver, against the best defense, Seattle, but the drama disappeared early at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

On the first play from scrimmage, a bad snap went sailing past Manning and landed in the end zone for a safety, giving Seattle a 2-0 lead without running a play. Denver didn’t score until the third quarter, when the game was out of reach.

Seattle’s defense was so strong that Denver managed only 27 yards rushing, compared with 135 for Seattle. Manning went 34 for 49 to gain 279 yards in the air, but most passes were for short yardage with his receivers quickly taken down. His counterpart, Russell Wilson of Seattle, went 18 for 26 to gain 206 yards and score two touchdowns.

Fittingly, a Seattle defensive player, linebacker Malcolm Smith, was named the game’s most valuable player.

Seattle won its first Super Bowl in franchise history. Manning was thwarted in his quest for a second Super Bowl ring.

After the safety, Seattle kicked two field goals, and Marshawn Lynch scored on a 1-yard run for a touchdown. The Seahawks’ Smith intercepted Manning’s second interception and returned it for another touchdown.

The second half started out bad for Denver, with Seattle’s Percy Harvin running the opening kickoff back for a touchdown.

Jermaine Kearse caught a 23-yeard pass from Russell Wilson with 2:58 left in the third quarter for another touchdown. Wilson threw his second scoring strike to Doug Baldwin with 11:45 left in the fourth.

Just before the third quarter ended, Denver got onto the scoreboard when Manning threw a 14-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas. Denver went for a two-point PAT to make the score 36-8.

Denver, led by the 37-year-old Manning, has the NFL’s best offense, statistically, but never got moving Sunday.

Richard Sherman, the Seattle defense player who mocked San Francisco after winning the NFC championship, was never really challenged. He left with an injury in the fourth quarter.

Though the game didn’t experience the blackout that hit last year’s Super Bowl, fans in Los Angeles had their own visual blackout.

Some fans lost cable service for a period and missed part of the second half and the halftime show, starring Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Time Warner cable said in a tweet that the issue was resolved before the end of the game.

A man was shot several times during a Super Bowl party at a residence in Denver, police said. The man was found outside the home, but police spokesman Sonny Jackson did not have additional information, such as what led to the shooting.

The man was taken to a hospital in critical condition, and authorities do not have a suspect or a suspect description.