Santa Claus 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, says a public health expert in the Christmas issue published on bmj.com today.
Dr Nathan Grills, from Monash University in Australia, says the current image of Santa promotes obesity, drink-driving, speeding and a general unhealthy lifestyle. He argues that "Santa only needs to affect health by 0.1% to damage millions of lives" and that it would be better if his popularity were used to promote healthy living.
Dr Grills carried out a review of literature and web-based material to assess Santa's potential negative impact on public health, but discovered that there were no peer-reviewed publications on this issue.
Dr Grills' investigation 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," says the author.
While Santa is now banned from smoking, images of him enjoying a pipe or cigar can still be found on Christmas cards. Father Christmas also potentially promotes drink-driving, argues Dr Grills, referring to the tradition of leaving Santa Claus a brandy to wish him well on his travel – with a few billion houses to visit, Santa would soon be over the limit, says the study.
Also, Santa has real potential to spread infectious diseases, says the paper. If Santa sneezes or coughs around 10 times a day, all the children who sit on his lap may end up with swine flu as well as their Christmas present, argues Dr Grills.
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.
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I hope the next topic to be tacked is how the tooth fairy promotes dental caries" – Ray Hill, London
"Whoever paid this guy for undertaking the research should get a life. What are we expecting, Santa handing out oranges and fruit to the kids who sit on his knee? The money would have been better spent funding healthy lifestyle initiatives for a group of kids" – Tom Harrison, Lancashire
"Dr Grills need to get out more!" – Carol Wotherspoon, High Wycombe
"Oh for heavens sake! I really think this is the health gurus gone mad. Surely children are better kept away from violent images etc rather than the image of good old Santa? Whatever next? Santa as the new 'Mr Motivator' munching on a carrot stick?!" – Amanda Cullum, Lincolnshire