As a physician, all too often I see young adults who developed obesity during childhood.Some of them now have type 2 diabetes in their early 20s. This means they have several decades in the prime of their lives to struggle with a serious, chronic disease.This is a preventable disease, as are other obesity-related ones, like heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. That's why it is critical to increase physical activity in and outside of school and to teach our youth to make healthy food choices early.With 25 million American kids — nearly one in every three young people — overweight or obese, our youngsters are at risk of living shorter, less healthy lives than their parents.Obesity's impact is even more problematic for racial and ethnic minority populations. According to recent studies, nearly 40 percent of African-American girls and 37 percent of Mexican-American girls ages 2-19 are considered overweight or obese. And nearly 42 percent of Mexican-American boys and 33 percent of African-American boys ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.To address the obesity challenge among children, especially youth from diverse ethnic backgrounds, we need to encourage our children to get plenty of exercise over the summertime, now that school is out.But the school setting is also a crucial place for healthy exercise. Since students spend a great amount of time in school, it is important to emphasize the role schools play in promoting lifelong physical activity habits.Currently, only 4 percent of elementary and 8 percent of middle schools provide daily physical education. And 22 percent of schools do not require students to take any physical education classes at all.If we want to improve our children's well-being, quality physical education must be an integral part of the school day. Beyond its health benefits, physical education can also help boost academic achievement.To reach this goal, the American Heart Association has joined together with other health organizations to support the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act, bipartisan legislation that strengthens physical education programs and raises awareness about the importance of physical activity throughout the country. It would require that all schools include the quantity and quality of physical education in the annual report cards currently sent to parents and look at developing innovative ways to increase physical activity in our schools.That is not too much to ask. Our future depends on the health and welfare of the next generation.Sherita Hill Golden is a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. For more information, visit www.fitkidsact.org. Golden can be reached at Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine, 409 E. Main St., Madison, WI 53703; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP's funding, visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.htmlanchorsupport.