(CBS) Should Ronald McDonald be put out to pasture?
Absolutely, says one watchdog group. Corporate Accountability International has launched a campaign calling for the retirement of the red-haired clown who has been pedaling McDonald's food for almost 50 years. The group says Ronald has been hooking kids on unhealthy food, helping spur America's epidemic of obesity and all the health ills that spring from being fat.
A 2010 study published in "Pediatrics" found that branding food products with cartoon characters clearly influences young children's taste preferences, easily luring them to eat junk food.
Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost one in three children is now overweight or obese. Obesity can lead to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, asthma and heart disease.
Is it really time for Ronald to go?
Yes, says Dr. Marion Nestle, a longtime critic of the U.S. food industry.
"Children recognize Ronald McDonald more than any other public figure," Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and the author of "Food Politics," told CBS News. "His purpose is to sell McDonald's fast food to kids, thereby undermining parental authority over what kids eat."
McDonald's has been distancing itself from its fast food reputation by adding to its menu salads and more upscale and adult fare. A Golden Arches rep denies the company is pulling the plug on Ronald McDonald anytime soon, Bloomberg reported.
McDonald's has downsized Ronald McDonald's job description, no longer associating him with menu items. But he's still appearing at school assemblies and helping to promote the 300 Ronald McDonald Houses that put up families who need to be near their sick children.