Friday, December 18, 2009
So suggests an intriguing and witty editorial in the British Medical Journal.
Given Santa’s tremendous popularity, particularly among children, the authors argue the public should become aware of some of the less-than-ideal lifestyle practices apparently advocated by jolly St. Nick.
Their basic thesis is the following: “Santa’s behaviour and public image are at odds with contemporary accepted public health messages.”
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 1930 that developed through advertising the contemporary appearance of Santa Claus that we all recognize today – I wonder if he was abdominally obese prior to Coke’s make-over?
This brings us to the authors' second point: Santa Claus is one of a few (only?) global icons who is obviously obese. The authors state that Santa’s image “promotes a message that obesity is synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality.” (I’m sure the likes of Chris Farley, Seth Rogen (before the weight loss), and many other overweight comedians had something to do with that as well).
The past US surgeon general is quoted as saying:
“It is really important that the people who 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 in 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, and likely mom and dad as well (who will be the ones more likely disposing of the snacks).
Additionally, the authors go on to suggest that Santa has a number of other unfortunate characteristics or bahaviors such as:
- smoking (he was often used in smoking ads in the past)
- 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?”)
Although the article is a fascinating read, despite the authors suggestions, I doubt that Santa will be dieting or commuting in a Toyota any time soon.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
[Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Kuk for technical assistance]
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Grills, N., & Halyday, B. (2009). Santa Claus: a public health pariah? BMJ, 339 (dec16 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b5261
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