April 1, 2010; New York Daily News | Last week the newswire covered the fact that McDonald’s apparently has been dropped as a Sesame Street sponsor because of concerns about childhood obesity. Now a nonprofit corporate watchdog group has launched a public campaign to force McDonald’s to retire its well-known spokes-clown Ronald McDonald. Corporate Accountability International, finds nothing funny about the fast-food giant’s red and yellow clown. Instead, it says that more than half of Americans surveyed in a poll agree that Ronald McDonald—who also helps promote the company’s charitable activities—contributes to the nation’s obesity epidemic by encouraging young people to eat fast food.

Deborah Lapidus of Corporate Accountability International, which organized protests this week outside McDonald’s outlets around the country, said the clown “is no friend to children or their health.” Comparing him to a well-known cartoon character that a tobacco maker was eventually forced to stop using, Lapidus called Ronald McDonald “a deep-fried Joe Camel.”

McDonald’s responded to Corporate Accountability International’s poll that found that 47 percent of Americans think it’s time for Ronald to go, issuing a statement that said, the clown is “a beloved brand ambassador for McDonald’s.” Nicholas Freudenberg, a public health professor at Hunter College, told the New York Daily News. “It’s not acceptable to market unhealthy products to children, and I think the retirement of Ronald McDonald would be a step in the right direction.” For now, it looks like grills inside McDonald’s won’t be the only thing generating heat for the company.—Bruce Trachtenberg