Based on my experiences with many of the room parents at my kids’ school, I think America is destined for a population of overweight kids and higher healthcare costs to treat them. Like most parents with kids enrolled at the Valley’s non-Title I schools, I contribute generously to our local school’s parent-run booster club. The goal is to supplement scarce funding for arts, music, computers and other programs that other schools can fund from their federal Title I dollars. (Apparently, our school’s students are “too affluent” to be treated the same as most other schools, but that rant is for another day). CAPITOL OFFENSES Brendan Huffman Regardless, my generosity is never enough. Many parents don’t support the non-profit, so our schools’ parent leaders are always looking for innovative ideas to generate more revenues such as variety shows, festivals, and selling pizza after school. This year, I have been introduced to “box tops,” which are these little pink tags which processed food manufacturers place on their products for kids to cut out and redeem for ten cents each. Somehow, these help our teachers pay for classroom items which the State Lottery was supposed to cover. On its face, it seems like a clever idea for educators and shareholders alike – as sales go up, so do proceeds for our schools. Or, at least that’s what gullible room parents believe. There have been two rounds of letters going home to some classes at our school urging students to try to bring one dollar’s worth of box tops. At minimum, it makes for a fun scavenger hunt. At most, it raises each class just under $30 per class if every child participates. For fairly nutrition-minded parents like me, the box tops have to be specially purchased, since our cereal from Trader Joe’s doesn’t come with box tops. In fact, hardly any of our products at home come with box tops, other than Kleenex and Ziplock bags. Helpfully, the room parents have attached a list of products I can buy at the local supermarket chain, items such as brownie mix and boxed juices that provide more than enough sugar to lead to childhood obesity. Not only are most of the box top food products unhealthful, they cost families more to buy than just sending ten dimes to school with my kids. And since my wife bakes from scratch, we have no need for brownie mix. As parents and taxpayers, it is a common pastime to complain about our public schools and how “they just don’t teach life skills anymore.” But in the case of the box tops, we have some well-intentioned parents teaching our kids to do the opposite of what life skill lessons teach, which is to read the labels of food products before you purchase and to compare prices, calorie contents and nutritious values. Somehow, I’ve managed to go nearly 40 years without having the urge to buy Almond Joy frozen dessert mix and Chocolate Lucky Charms. (Chocolate Lucky Charms, are you kidding me? If there was ever a reason to oppose universal health care, it’s that people actually buy this stuff and serve it to their kids for breakfast—breakfast!). The box top program tries to grow its market share of unhealthful food products by enticing us to support our schools by purchasing more expensive products than most of us would normally buy. As a shareholder, I love it! As a parent, though, I’m horrified. So, how much has our school earned so far this year in box tops? According to the box top web site, zero (even though I dutifully sent a dollar’s worth of box tops with my kid to school in January). Our neighboring schools have had better success with $270, $165 and $6, which makes you wonder if anyone at the PTAs has ever conducted cost-benefit analyses to determine whether the cost of printing the flier to go home with students exceeded the revenues from the box tops! There are several lessons here in the box top experience. First, the dollar amounts raised is negligible. Second, it costs families more to participate in the box top program than to donate directly to the school. Third, parents are contributing to childhood obesity by stocking their cupboards with more junk food than they need. Perhaps most importantly, we’re teaching our kids to be gullible and to buy into the corporate marketing tricks to get us to buy things we don’t really need (and eat them while we read our credit card statements in our soon to be foreclosed homes we purchased with no money down). “Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t,” Pete Seeger. Brendan Huffman is the owner of Huffman Public Affairs in Studio City and the co-host of “Off The Presses,” an internet radio program streamed via www.LATalkRadio.com every Thursday between 10-11 a.m.