CHICAGO — A group of more than 550 health institutions and professionals from across the United States on May 18 published an open letter in numerous newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, New York Metro and San Francisco Examiner, calling for McDonald’s to stop marketing certain foods to children. The letter, addressed to Jim Skinner, chief executive officer of McDonald’s, urged the fast-food chain to “retire” marketing promotions — including Ronald McDonald — for food high in salt, fat, sugar and calories to children.

“Today, our family practice offices, pediatric clinics and emergency rooms are filled with children suffering from conditions related to the food they eat,” said Steven K. Rothschild, associate professor of preventive medicine at Rush Medical College. “These health problems will likely play out over their lifetime through early onset of diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Through this initiative the public health community is rallying behind a simple message to McDonald’s: stop making the next generation sick — retire Ronald and the rest of your junk food marketing to kids.”

The call for McDonald’s to halt certain marketing practices comes just a few weeks after the Federal Trade Commission proposed sweeping guidelines on food marketing to children.

In the letter to Mr. Skinner, the health professionals noted that while parents continue to parent and children continue to exercise at rates similar to two decades ago, the amount of food being consumed and amount of marketing being seen has changed.

“We know the contributors of today’s epidemic are manifold and a broad societal response is required,” the letter said. “But marketing can no longer be ignored as a significant part of this massive problem. We ask that you heed our concern and retire your marketing promotions for food high in salt, fat, sugar and calories, whatever form they take — from Ronald McDonald to toy giveaways. Our children and health care system will benefit from your leadership on this issue.”

Signatures on the letter include David L. Katz, director of Yale Prevention Research Center and editor-in-chief of Childhood Obesity; Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Marion Nestle, Paulette Goodard professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, and professor of Sociology, at New York University; and Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health.

In a statement, a McDonald’s spokesman said, “Ronald McDonald is not retiring. He is the heart and soul of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which lends a helping hand to families in their time of need, particularly when families need to be near their critically ill children in hospitals.”