Emily Payne is a third-grader in Darlene Letourneau’s class at Martel School in Lewiston. She has learned something that she wants to share with other students, something that she thinks will make them happier and healthier.

For the better part of this school year, Letourneau has assigned her students lessons on obesity – what contributes to it and what can be done to prevent or reverse it.

What Emily has learned, as she and her classmates have eaten smaller portions of food, selected healthier snacks and kept daily logs of physical activity, is that she has more endurance, can focus better in class and has more energy now than at the start of the school year.

The students were so struck by what they learned and how they feel that they surveyed every child at the Martel School on physical health. Letourneau’s class used that data to draft a proposal, which has been presented to the Lewiston School Committee asking for 15 extra minutes to be added to each physical education class, mandate two PE classes a week, employ a physical education teacher at every city elementary school, and require participation in the Presidential Fitness Award program.

Emily and her classmates are determined, but they’re also realistic. They understand that the cost of their proposal means more gym teachers and that costs money. They think the cost is worth the benefit.

We applaud the students and urge the School Committee to consider this heartfelt proposal.

Physical fitness and health education does cost money. But it costs more, in the long term, to eat poorly and never exercise. Poor nutrition and inactivity is a near recipe for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. None of which is cheap to treat and all of which reduce lifespan.

Today is ACES Day (All Children Exercising Simultaneously) in Maine, part of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, Health and Wellness. Maine, among the most obese states in the nation, has the lowest physical activity in this country. One day of increased activity, although important to organize, is not enough to change poor habits that have taken years to acquire.

There are an impressive number of local schools participating in ACES Day, including Lewiston High School, Fairview Elementary in Auburn, Cascade Brook School in Farmington, Jay Middle School, Madison Avenue Elementary in Oxford and Turner Elementary School. Today, more than 25,000 Maine students will be doing something active, learning how to stay fit and pledging to work as hard as they can toward better health.

Those lessons must continue into tomorrow and on through the rest of their lives.

If they need an example to follow, they need only look to Emily Payne and her peers at Martel.

Grappling with poor nutrition and exercise habits is not just a homework assignment. It’s what defines how we feel every day and how long we might expect to live. Letourneau’s class has learned what could be the most important lesson of their young lives.