Should Santa Claus go on a diet?

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“Santa’s behaviour and public image are at odds with contemporary accepted public health messages,” suggests an editorial in the British Medical Journal.

Given Santa’s tremendous popularity, particularly among children, the authors of the editorial argue the public should become aware of some of the less-than-ideal lifestyle practices advocated by jolly St. Nick.

The first issue they raise in support of their argument is the pervasive use of Santa Claus to advertise basically everything during the holidays, especially unhealthy food choices such as Coca-Cola products. Apparently, it was the Coca-Cola company in the 1930s that developed the contemporary image of Santa Claus that we all recognize today – I wonder if he was abdominally obese prior to Coke’s make-over?

The authors state that Santa’s image “promotes a message that obesity is synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality.”

The past US surgeon general is quoted as saying:
“It is really important that the people kids look up to as role models are in good shape, eating well and getting exercise. It is absolutely critical.”

Personally, I’m not 100% convinced that at a time when discrimination against obese individuals is already rampant, and the large majority of the population is overweight or obese – it may not be a bad idea to have a public character who remains in good spirits DESPITE his expanded waistline. Then again, ending the whole “milk and cookies” routine is probably a good idea for the health of Santa, or whoever dresses up as one.

The authors go on to point out a number of Santa’s other poor health behaviours such as:
- smoking (he was often used in smoking ads in the past, and has a fondness for pipes)
- drunk driving (another tradition is to leave some Brandy for Santa, and given the number of houses he visits, his alcohol level would surely be above the limit)
- unsafe driving (does not obey road rules, excessive speeds, no harness or seatbelt)
- since Santa (think local mall variety) is apparently sneezed or coughed on up to 10 times a day, he is also a great source of potential infections. (“What would you like for Christmas little Jimmy? How about some H1N1?”)

What do you think? Does Santa encourage impressionable minds to pack on the pounds, smoke and drive while being intoxicated? Or are we being a bit too tough on Father Christmas?

Happy Holidays,

Peter

Reference: Grills, N., & Halyday, B. (2009). Santa Claus: a public health pariah? BMJ, 339 (dec16 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b526

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