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Should Ronald McDonald Be Retired?

(Ronald McDonald retiring article and poll updated with news of McDonald's latest Happy Meal advertisements.)
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- McDonald's (MCD - Get Report) is once again under scrutiny for its marketing practices, only this time it's not just about the free toys in its Happy Meals but about its time-honored icon, Ronald McDonald.

A full-page advertisement in major metropolitan newspapers around the U.S. Wednesday ran a letter signed by more than 550 health professionals and organizations, asked McDonald's to retire "Chief Happiness Officer" Ronald McDonald, and take on other efforts to end the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner, speaking at the company's annual shareholder meeting last week, insisted that "Ronald McDonald is going nowhere."

Golden Arches shareholders agreed, also rejecting the proposal that it assess its "policy responses to public concerns regarding linkages of fast food to childhood obesity, diet-related diseases and other impacts on children's health." Just 6% of shareholders voted in favor of the proposal.

McDonald's does allow healthier substitutions in its Happy Meals, such as offering milk or juice instead of soda, and offering sliced apples with caramel sauce and chicken nuggets instead of French fries and hamburgers.

The published letter conceded that "the contributors to today's (health) epidemic are manifold and a broad societal response is required. But marketing can no longer be ignored as a significant part of this massive problem."

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