A private institution in the US has pledged to spend over 500 million US dollars in the next five years to combat childhood obesity .
The announcement by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been hailed as one of the largest public health initiatives ever tried by private philanthropy.
"This is an epidemic that is going to cost the country in terms of morbidity and mortality and economically," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the foundation's president and chief executive.
"The younger generation is going to live sicker and die younger than their parents because of obesity."
Of the 74 million persons under the age of 17 years, as many as 25 millions are obese or overweight, it has been estimated.
Many of those children are poor and live in neighborhoods where outdoor play is unsafe and access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited. "In many cases, the environment makes it almost impossible for them to choose healthy lifestyles," Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey said. "We're going to try to change that."
The foundation plans to invest in programs to improve access to healthy food, encourage the development of safe play spaces, increase research to enhance understanding of obesity and prod governments into adopting policies to address the problem.
The foundation had played a major role in curbing tobacco use too, spending $446 million from 1991 to 2003 toward that goal, and it plans to use those experiences to shape its attack on childhood fat.
Since 1995, the number of adult and teenage smokers has declined 12.6 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
Even earlier the foundation had pledged $80 million in the fight against childhood obesity.
Several snack food producers are already making changes in their packaging and ingredients, and three soft-drink companies said they would no longer supply sweetened drinks to school cafeterias and vending machines.
Several states have mandated changes in school menus, increased physical education requirements and begun reporting students' body mass index scores to parents.