The Marlboro Man is dead. So is Joe Camel. Is Ronald McDonald next? A group fighting corporate marketing to children hopes he will be soon.

Corporate Accountability International is collecting signatures across North America for a petition to be delivered to McDonald's shareholders meeting in May. The group wants the fast food maker to stop sending in the clown to market their products to children.

"This is about, for nearly 50 years, Ronald has been hooking our kids on unhealthy food and spurring a deadly epidemic of diet-related disease," CAI's Stacey Folsom told CTV's Canada AM from Boston Thursday.

"It's time McDonald's stopped targeting our kids with fast food marketing. He deserves a break and so do we."

The group has launched a website called RetireRonald.org, as well a poll that finds that although most Americans like the red-haired clown, many think it's time for him to turn in his oversized shoes and yellow jumpsuit.

It found that 65 per cent of Americans have a favourable view of Ronald McDonald and the company he represents; however, 52 per cent favoured stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children's characters to sell harmful products to children. A full 47 per cent specifically favoured retiring Ronald McDonald.

Fulsom says obesity rates are soaring and fast food can take much of the blame. "Our kids are sick, and the reason is what they eat," she says.

She says in the mid-1990s, her group successfully campaigned to send Joe Camel packing and helped give the Marlboro Man the boot.

"Both these icons were designed to hook our kids on (smoking), so retiring them was a significant turning point in reducing the demand for cigarettes among our kids," she says.

McDonald's has responded to the campaign by noting that Ronald McDonald is the namesake of a group of respite houses for families caring for critically ill children.

"Ronald McDonald is a beloved brand ambassador for McDonald's. He is the heart and soul of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which lends a helping hand to families in their time of need."

Fulsom says there's no question that McDonald's charities have done great things for children.

"And that work is to be commended. No one wants to see them stop doing that. But the question we're asking is why does McDonald's need to connect such honourable work to marketing to our kids.

"It's pretty ironic that the face of a charity that is helping kids get better is the same face that is so effective on hooking our kids on unhealthy food that's making them sick."