With the recent findings by Scripps Research Institute that junk food is as addictive as heroine, parents are becoming more concerned than ever about the health implications of those empty calories their kids love so much.

According to watchdog group Corporate Accountability International (CAI) parents are facing an uphill battle, as they combat the millions of dollars spent each year marketing junk food to kids. Most often these campaigns involve fun colorful characters like Ronald McDonald, Tony the Tiger, and even Sponge Bob (for Burger King).

CAI says there is a history of such youth-targeted advertising, and its intention has always been to hook kids young. As campaign director Judy Grant explains, "Just as Joe Camel lured a generation of kids to cigarettes, Ronald McDonald is luring them next to meals that are unhappily high in salt, sugar, and fat."

Despite the fact that Ronald McDonald, perhaps one of the best known kids icons (next to Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse) is frequently portrayed with children, McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner flatly denies the claim, "Ronald [McDonald] has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence."

To prove him wrong and to draw attention to the epidemic of childhood obesity which stems largely from the overconsumption of fast food, CAI just launched a "Where's Ronald" campaign (PDF). 

The goal is to have parents and kids submit photos and video that proves Ronald is out there peddling high-fat, low-nutrition products directly to kids. Points are awarded for examples submitted to CAI, and the winners will receive deluxe dinners from organic, locally-grown restaurants.

Though the red-headed clown will probably be as hard to catch as his cohort the Hamburgler, according to the campaign director several great photo examples have already been submitted, and CAI will be compiling them in the effort to expose Ronald's marketing shenanigans. 

Corporate watchdogs target Ronald McDonald
Corporate Accountability International launches 'Where's Ronald' scavenger hunt to document direct-to-child marketing of junk food. Catch him red-handed and win