America’s largest health philanthropy group plans to spend 500-million dollars in the next five years fighting childhood obesity by promoting health programs in Iowa and nationwide. Dr. Jim Marks, a senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says the group intends to help kids — and parents — control the so-called epidemic of fat.

Marks says: "It’s clear that’s what’s happening everywhere, Iowa included, is that the number of obese children is skyrocketing. Everybody’s been aware of it in adults but I don’t think people have been nearly as aware of it in children. Nationwide, about 25-million children are overweight or obese, that’s about a third of them. In Iowa, just like the others, it’s gone up very rapidly." Statistics provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health show obesity-related health problems cost Iowans 783-million dollars every year.

Marks says those numbers have to be contained by making the future generations more health conscious. He says: "Obese children, overweight children are costing much more. The estimates on the nation are about 14-billion dollars out of a total of 117-billion in total costs related to obesity and overweight. It’s not just a cosmetic issue. It’s in fact starting to effect their health very negatively."

Marks says the New Jersey-based foundation plans to sponsor programs that emphasize familiar themes — exercise and eating healthy. He says, "Iowa is one of the states that we hope will be a real partner with us in this. What we’ll have on our website, at, are periodic announcements about funding opportunities. People can go on there and sign up and then an automatic e-mail will let them know when a new announcement comes up over this next five years for the 500-million dollars."

Marks suggests one simple solution which he calls the "walking school bus,’ where parents could herd students house-to-house and walk them to school. He also wants school cafeteria menus to include more healthy alternatives.

Marks says: "What we want is for the schools to become healthy places again, that children can be active there, for communities to be places that are safe for children to play and that they are playing. That means that it’s easier for parents to make the healthy choices." A study finds about 26-percent of Iowa children between the ages of ten and 17 are obese or overweight. The national rate for that age group is 31-percent.