The good news is children in the Mother Lode may be in better physical shape than their counterparts in other parts of the state. The not-so-good news is that our kids still are, well, pretty dormant.

The Children Now report found that only 38 percent of Tuolumne and Calaveras county kids younger than 11 fewer than one in four were physically fit.

In fact, the only thing in the Oakland-based child-advocacy group's report that made our children look good was that a woeful 28 percent of surveyed youngsters statewide were deemed fit.

By no stretch of the imagination does a 38 percent fitness level make the grade. In fact's that's an F in classrooms across the nation.

Children Now's findings, sadly, are in line with results of California Department of Education fitness tests given grade school and high school students here over the last few years: They're not good, but slightly better than the statewide average:

In Tuolumne County, 38.1 percent of fifth graders, 42.3 percent of sixth graders and 32.4 percent of ninth-graders last year met the state's minimum standards in six fitness tests. In Calaveras County, pass rates were 27, 40.3 and 33.9 percent

Statewide, fewer than 30 percent of kids from the three grades tested met minimum standards in all six tests.

On the brighter side, students both in the Mother Lode and statewide have recently posted improving scores. But on the minus side, gains have been modest and the rise to respectability if it happens at all could take years, if not decades.

The natural reflex when confronted with such bad news is to look for someone to blame. Schools are the most convenient target, but the real culprit may be a lot closer than the nearest campus gym or play field.

Try that TV in the corner of the family room, your kids' bedroom computer terminals, or their nearby video game consoles. Collectively they soak up thousands of hours annually that could be devoted to exercise, reading, conversation or any number of healthier, more sociable activities.

The latest A.C. Nielsen Co. national figures are, in more than one sense, mind numbing:

? A TV is on in the average American household for more than eight hours a day.

? Teenagers and younger children, on average, each spend more than three-and-half-hours in front of the tube daily. Over a year, that's more time than they spend in classrooms.

? Internet users, many of them teens, average three hours a day online.

But before parents begin clucking about these figures, they might look in the mirror or at their own reflections in the TV screen: American adults each average more than five hours in front of the tube each day.

This is where "American Idol" becomes American Idle.

Sure, our schools could do better: Most Calaveras and Tuolumne County high schools require no more than the state-required minimum of two years of physical education. The effectiveness of elementary school programs varies widely.

Tuolumne County Schools Superintendent Joe Silva is to be commended for recognizing the hazards of childhood obesity, making fitness a cornerstone of his administration and pointing out that the best academic education can be undermined by diabetes, heart disease and other ailments that often prey on the overweight and unfit.

But there's only so much Silva or any other educator can teach when the only question asked at home is "What's on?"

We in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties live in one of California's most beautiful areas. Opportunities for exercise and recreation abound and, often, are as near as the front door.

So turning off that TV even if it's only for one hour of eight a day is a reachable goal. Not only that, but it's one with great benefits for both children and parents.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.