Self-anointed food elitists have identified several fronts in their war to control what you eat and how your food is made, from “traffic light” warning labels to limits on specific ingredients. One of their latest strategies is to fight obesity by heavily restricting how food is marketed (or flat-out banning commercials). And of course, it’s got a “do it for the children” patina: Kids see cartoon characters on boxes or in TV commercials, the theory goes, and this leads them to get fat. Right.

This week we’re telling readers of the Buffalo News and the Tennessean that there’s a better option than the simplistic command-and-control ideas being offered up by the Kelly Brownells of the world: competition.

Veggie companies are co-opting the same tactics of cookie marketers in targeting kids to make their products “cool.” Everybody wants kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, but will this tactic work? There’s certainly evidence that it will succeed more than a big-government approach:

[P]arents already know what their kids are eating — they’re the ones driving to restaurants or supermarkets and plunking down their cold, hard cash. Further, there’s absolutely no evidence that banning toys, or food advertising generally, does anything to curb childhood obesity.

Bans have been tried elsewhere to little avail. Sweden banned ads targeting kids under 12 in 1991. More than a decade later, the BBC reported that obesity rates there were similar to those in the UK, which had no such restrictions. The same was true for Quebec (with ad bans) compared to the rest of Canada (without). …

Cornell University researchers found that referring to carrots as “X-ray vision carrots” increased consumption among preschoolers by 62 percent. It stands to reason that slapping Dora the Explorer or Sponge Bob on a slick packet of veggies has a good chance of gaining new young converts.

Click here to read the whole op-ed.