Should Santa Claus go on a diet?

“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,


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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11 Responses to Should Santa Claus go on a diet?

  1. Cynthia Williamson says:

    Merry Christmas Peter and Travis!
    How about we spin it this way with the kids? Santa Claus is a magical being – eating and drinking whatever he wants doesn’t affect him the way it affects us normal human beings. We have to exercise and eat right and refrain from drinking alcohol when we drive because we’re mere mortals. He isn’t healthy or unhealthy because he’s magic.
    I read recently that most people really only gain one pound at Christmas time – not a lot right? The problem is that we never lose it, so year after year, we get bigger and bigger. I do dread what that means for more our already obese youngsters.
    This may seem tangential but I live in hope that the NRA has finally gone too far and that people will rebel against their evil lobbying and that this will lead to a wake-up call against other lobbying groups and corporations like big food cos. and people will start to think for themselves again. Surely we’ve reached a different kind of cliff than the fake fiscal cliff in the USA. Surely we’ll take a hard turn left and get healthy. That is my wish for the New Year.

  2. WRG says:

    Give Santa a break! This guy travels around the world in just a few hours, rushing up and down chimneys to leave gifts for the kids. He expends a huge amount of energy in one night, not to mention how busy he is supervising the elves who are making gifts throughout the year. Unless he uses a golf cart to get around the toy factory (and have we ever seen him on a golf cart?), he probably walks at a minimum 20K steps a day. My bets are on Santa being fat and fit.

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  4. But we know that Santa Claus is not just Santa. There is a big commerce behind it. Do you think Santa will reject all the money from Coke-Cola?

    Actually I prefer some kind of healty and fit Santa.

  5. I’m wondering if maybe it’s a bigger and more tacit cultural issue than it first appears. Just in my superficial and biased memory right now, it seems as if being fit is usually implicitly associated with being violent, unfortunately, or with desperation. The good guys who are in good shape are usually action heroes or guys that have some motivation to get fit to get revenge or somesuch (think the iconic deNiro in Taxi Driver, or the Sarah Conners character in the Terminator series).

    I’m thinking that joyful, happy fit characters are pretty much isolated to bodybuilding magazines, in which they seem almost incongruous. Jesus is usually portrayed as emaciated rather than portly, but the Lucifer is usually ripped.

    The only really positive popular fitness images I can think of are Jack Lalanne (and a few others like him), Arnold (sometimes), Olympians (seasonally), and mythological and comic book figures. And even many of the contemporary comic book figures seem to have a dark side as role models.

    Am I missing a lot of fit good guys with my jaded account?

    Not meant as a serious point really, just an impression.

  6. Let’s let Santa continue to be plump, healthy and jolly from all the activity he gets all year long especially @ Christmas and the wholesome (non processed) foods he gets at the North Pole. He can still be healthy and eat milk and cookies occasionally. Instead let’s just stop using his healthy/happy image to market unhealthy products.

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  8. Krissie says:

    Happy holidays to you and for your opinion on Santa Claus!

    He is a character that was created a long, long time ago when the population wasn’t quite as heavy as it is now. Unfortunately, things have changed a lot since then and the big brands like to capitalize on the consumer aspect of the holiday season.

    Funny enough, as soon as ‘baby New Year’ comes rolling in, everyone will be going on a diet and Santa will be forgotten until late October of next year..

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  10. Anna Huddy says:

    Happy holidays: hope they’ve been active and joyful!
    My mother is Dutch and I have a working knowledge of Sinterklaas (who comes on 5th December, so as not to interfere with celebrating Christ’s birthday, a far more religious affair). His antecedent St Nicholas, was not stout nor looked particularly jolly. In fact, I think several centuries ago (as it still is in many parts of the world) nutrition or lack thereof was a life and death affair and food was a serious matter. My mum grew up during the German occupation of the Netherlands in a family of 12 children (good old Catholics, and no TV) and ate sparrows. If Sinterklaas brought sweets, it was definitely a “sometimes” food (which terminology Australia is now using in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, as opposed to “everyday” food) as in once a year! Not as in our current “sometimes” with every meal. I think poor old Santa is one of the increasing number of us affluent citizens who are piling on the kilos, just a product of his own habits and obesogenic environment. Can Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers take him on? Does he have a blog where he can provide inspiration though his successful battle with the bulge (“Look at me bending over and tying my own shoelace! I no longer require the help of a shoe elf!)
    So many opportunities, I say he should just re-emerge next year as a non-smoking, non-drinking, vegetarian in Lycra and see if anyone notices. In fact, he might be gay as well.