Foundation wants to curb childhood obesity

It's a public health problem of epidemic proportions — America's children are eating more junk food, exercising less and getting heavier.

Now, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wants to do something about it. It intends to spend $500 million — the largest amount of private money ever — to support programs that combat childhood obesity.

"If we don't turn this epidemic around and halt the rise in childhood obesity, we're going to have the first generation of kids who actually are sicker and die younger than their parents," says Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the foundation.

A third of America's 74 million children are considered dangerously overweight or obese. And it's a recent trend. Since 1963, the weight of an average 10-year-old girl has gone from 77 pounds to about 88. Boys are heavier, too, increasing from 74 pounds to 85 pounds.

Along with the personal risks, childhood obesity also poses a threat to the nation's health care system. Studies show it costs up to $14 billion a year in medical care to treat overweight kids.

"We all need to look inside and ask ourselves 'are we doing what we can to keep ourselves healthy and teach our children how to keep themselves healthy?'" says Michael Leavitt of Health and Human Services.

Parents like Melissa Pezella are trying. Her son, 3-year-old Lucca, weighs 47 pounds — 12 pounds overweight.

Nationwide, some school menus and vending machines are offering healthier choices. And physical education is making a comeback.

That's good news for concerned parents, and now with half a billion more dollars devoted to the problem, the Johnson Foundation hopes Americans will take childhood obesity more seriously.