Just about everyone knows that too many American children are overweight and not as fit as they should be. Obesity, particularly among youngsters, is a national problem that won't be resolved with lawsuits and congressional interference. But communities can do something.

Consider the Kid Power KC Summer Challenge, a Kansas City-area effort this summer to encourage boys and girls to exercise and eat better while they are having fun.

While the program was targeted at what are called "tweens" - children between 9 and 13 years old - everyone could learn and benefit from what the kids were being taught.

The idea was not merely to teach them that they need to eat healthy food and adopt a fitness regimen, but to make those practices into lifetime habits through tracking eating and exercise choices, and providing classes in healthy cooking and exercise programs. In short, make the wise choices as much fun as possible.

About 1,500 of the 3,000 young participants completed the program after signing up through schools, YMCAs, the Girl Scouts, the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, and Harvesters. Those who didn't stay were at least exposed to the benefits of better nutrition and exercise.

Studies suggest that as many as 15 percent of all youngsters in this country, ages 6 through 19, are severely overweight, and an increasing number of children are suffering from diseases related to obesity, including Type 2 diabetes. A Kansas City study found similarly troubling numbers.

Let's face it: Children today can become couch potatoes at the age of 3 or 4. They watch too much television and play too many video games. They aren't active enough physically. And they make bad choices in what they eat on a regular basis.

The solution is simple. Moms and dads need to help them make the right decisions, scoot them away from the TVs and computers and out into the sunshine to play with other children, and put vegetables and fruits on their plates alongside meats and treats.

Unfortunately, that isn't happening enough. And so grass-roots programs, such as Kid Power KC Summer Challenge, are being proposed and developed. The trouble is that such programs take money, something that few communities have lying around gathering dust in these revenue-light days. Maybe foundations can be found to help fund such projects. Perhaps volunteers, including medical personnel and professionals involved in physical training, will step forward to make a "fun" program work.

Lifestyles need to be changed. But that won't happen as long as Junior and Sis are watching television or playing computer games until their eyes blur, and eating sugar- and fat-packed foods until their bellies ache.