Santa should change his image: he should get off his sleigh and walk, lose weight, eat the carrots children leave out for the reindeer and forego
the sherry and mince pie, and generally stop promoting obesity, drink driving and unhealthy living, suggests a public health expert from
Writing in the British Medical Journal, BMJ Christmas issue, Dr Nathan Grills, from Monash University asks "is Santa Claus a public health pariah?"
Grills writes that:
"Santa only needs to affect health by 0.1 per cent to damage millions of lives."
We should be using his popularity to promote healthy living urges Grills, who backs up his argument with a review of literature and web-based material on the jolly fat man's potential negative impact on public health (funnily enough he found no peer-reviewed papers on this).
Grills concluded there is a high level of awareness of Santa among children: for instance he is more familiar to American schoolchildren than Ronald McDonald, an image that is heavily promoted in US and other countries to make children associate McDonald's food with happiness.
Santa's image is also used to sell, and sometimes he is depicted promoting products that cause harm, says Grills, and the impact is global.
"Like Coca-Cola, Santa has become a major export item to the developing world", he writes.
Grills also points out that:
- Christmas cards often portray Santa smoking a pipe or cigar.
- Santa promotes drink-driving: since he must sup gallons of brandy as he does his rounds on Christmas Eve.
- Despite portraying himself as a high speed air traveller, you never see him wearing a seat belt or helmet.
- As well as high speed travel, Santa could be accused of promoting other dangerous activities such as roof surfing and chimney jumping.
- The jolly man spreads diseases: assuming he sneezes or coughs around 10 times a day, think of how many children may end up with swine flu after sitting on his lap making their Christmas wishes.
Should Santa be thinking about retiring Rudolph, Donner and Blitzen, donning a track suit and cycling his way across the skies?
"Santa Claus: a public health pariah?"
Nathan J Grills and Brendan Halyday.
BMJ, 2009;339:b5261; Published online 16 December 2009
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD