Ronald McDonald will not be going the way of the Marlboro Man or Joe Camel any time soon.

"The answer is no," McDonald's Corp.'s CEO Jim Skinner told a room full of shareholders Thursday at the company's annual meeting at its headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Ill.

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Boston-based advocacy group Corporate Accountability International has been running a campaign for two months to have McDonald's Corp. shelve its well-known corporate icon, Ronald McDonald. ((Corporate Accountability International))

The clown has been the focus of critics who say he promotes unhealthy eating.

"He is a force for good," Skinner said, adding that the nearly 50-year-old clown is an ambassador for the McDonald's brand and its Ronald McDonald House Charities.

"He communicates effectively with children and families around balanced, active lifestyles. He does not hawk food," said Skinner.

Shareholders applauded Skinner and unleashed a chorus of boos when representatives from the Boston-based advocacy group Corporate Accountability International requested the famous icon be shelved — for good.

"Ronald McDonald is a pied piper drawing youngsters all over the world to food that is high in fat, sodium and calories," said Alfred David Klinger, a retired Chicago physician who volunteers with the organization.

"On the surface, Ronald is there to give children enjoyment in all sorts of way with toys, games and food. But Ronald McDonald is dangerous, sending insidious messages to young people."

The organization calls itself a nonprofit corporate watchdog and has been running a campaign for the past two months mounting a "Retire Ronald" campaign.

So far, it has received support from about 10,000 people, said senior organizer Deborah Lapidus.

With files from The Associated Press