Editor:

The current debate over health care priorities presents a critical opportunity to take a closer look at the state of our children's health. With childhood obesity rates skyrocketing, more emphasis should be placed on teaching youngsters how to become more physically active.  Overweight children have an increased risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death among Californians.

Today, nearly 10 million children and adolescents ages six to 19 are considered overweight. Here in Sonoma County, 27 percent of children ages six to 11 are obese, higher than the national average.

Representative Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, can help improve the health and well-being of our children by co-sponsoring the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act. The FIT Kids Act, endorsed by the American Heart Association, amends No Child Left Behind to encourage schools to increase physical education and give children the tools they need to stay fit and healthy through adulthood.

Not only are fit children at less risk for future heart disease and stroke, studies show they also achieve more academically.

Giving the nation's children a head start on physical fitness to reduce their risk for obesity-related diseases should be a top priority for Congress as we seek to reform our country's health care system.

I encourage Rep. Woolsey to join her colleagues to help kids lead healthier lives, learn more effectively and achieve more academically.

Ari Hauptman, M.D., Board member, American Heart Association North Bay, Division, Department of Pediatrics, Kaiser Santa Rosa