Santa Claus: He’s bad for your health!

Whilst millions of people celebrate Christmas in quiet ways, many millions see this as a time for parties and excessive indulgences in eating, drinking alcohol and spending. Stomachs, livers, minds and purses can be stretched to their limits -- and beyond. Results can range from stress and partnership breakdowns as well as serious health problems. Alcoholic poisoning cases increase in the young. Road and other accidents are common. Accident and emergency departments, ICUs and other hospital units come under seasonal stress.

Credit: pixelio/danyba
Credit: pixelio/danyba

Yet, the perception that nothing else matters except ‘Having a good time’ carries on, also promoted by advertising of extravagant goods and excess.
In the West, one of the icons of the season is a fat, jolly cartoon character wearing a bright red outfit trimmed with white fur. He is recognised immediately as Santa Claus – and now he’s in trouble!
An eminent public health expert has said that the current image of Santa promotes obesity, drink-driving, speeding and a general unhealthy lifestyle. Dr Nathan Grills, a Public Health Fellow in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine, Monash University, in Australia, argues: ‘Santa only needs to affect health by 0.1% to damage millions of lives’ and that it would be better if his popularity was used to promote healthy living.

In an article published in the British Medical Journal’s Christmas issue (bmj.com), Dr Grills suggests that Santa should share Rudolf's snack of carrots and celery sticks rather than brandy and mince pies and swap his reindeer for a bike -- or walk.

For his paper, Dr Grills reviewed literature and web-based material to assess Santa's potential negative impact on public health. There were no peer reviewed publications on this issue. His investigation revealed very high Santa awareness amongst children. Indeed, among American school kids Santa Claus was the only fictional character more highly recognised than Ronald McDonald, says the paper.

The author also found that, ‘Santa sells, and sometimes he sells harmful products’ and this happens on a global scale. ‘Like Coca-Cola, Santa has become a major export item to the developing world.’

While Santa is now banned from smoking, images of him enjoying a pipe or cigar can is still used on some Christmas cards. Santa also potentially promotes drink-driving, Dr Grills argues. Referring to the tradition of leaving Santa Claus a brandy to wish him well on his travels, the health experts said that, with a few billion houses to visit, Santa would soon be over the alcohol limit.

Additionally, Santa has real potential to spread infectious diseases, the author says: If Santa sneezes or coughs about 10 times a day, all the children who sit on his lap may end up with swine flu as well as their Christmas presents.
While more research is needed before calling for authorities to regulate Santa's activities, Dr Grills proposes a new image for Santa – a slimmed down version on a treadmill.

01.12.2009

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