Subscribe to Obesity Panacea
Subscribe to Obesity Panacea
Subscribe to Obesity Panacea by mail

Santa Claus: Advocating an Unhealthy Lifestyle?

Friday, December 18, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD

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.

Happy Holidays,


[Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Kuk for technical assistance]

Enjoyed this post? Subscribe to Obesity Panacea and have future posts delivered regularly to your email account or your RSS reader.

Grills, N., & Halyday, B. (2009). Santa Claus: a public health pariah? BMJ, 339 (dec16 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b5261

Enjoyed this story? Share it with your friends by clicking the buttons below!

Twitter Facebook Digg It! Stumble Delicious Technorati

To get future posts delivered directly to your email inbox or to your RSS reader, be sure to subscribe to Obesity Panacea.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Response to "Santa Claus: Advocating an Unhealthy Lifestyle?"

  1. Erin Said,

    I think the authors had too much time on their hands! Children have adored Santa for years. The reasons for the average weights increasing significantly in the last 20 years appears to be primarily related to change in lifestyle.

    Posted on December 18, 2009 at 2:32 PM

  2. Gwen Said,

    Definitely too much time on their hands.

    "it may not be a bad idea to have a public character who remains in good spirits DESPITE his expanded waistline."

    Very true. Being overweight may not be healthy, but that doesn't mean it needs to be completely purged from every last media outlet that portrays it. Shall we start preening the Halloween witches of their warts? It's a part of who he is as a character. Plus it's not like Santa Claus is a major influence on children all year round--only on Christmas, which comes only once a year. Doesn't everyone indulge themselves a little during Christmastime?

    The smoking thing is a little concerning, but from what I understand, that's only from old advertisements? There was a time in this country when practically everybody smoked--heck some old commercials even showed doctors and (can you believe it?) Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble smoking.

    The drunk driving/unsafe driving thing is just plain silly. Anyone who has children should obviously take care with what they're doing with alcohol, and as for unsafe driving... he's way up in the sky, what's he going to run into?

    Posted on December 18, 2009 at 9:00 PM

  3. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,

    @ Erin - Yes, I doubt Santa Claus had much directly to do with the obesity epidemic :) As for reasons for causes of the epidemic - I've read about many aside from the obvious inactive/overeating - some think its due to smoking cessation, some due to environmental pollutants, the built environment, just to name a few.

    @Gwen - I totally agree. I almost think the opposite is more perverse - that is, despite the fact that majority of the population is overweight/obese - everyone on TV, magazines, etc. lean. If you just viewed the world through TV and other popular media, you'd think obesity is an extremely rare condition.

    Regarding Santa's dangerous driving practices - obviously a tad silly. Then again, he could run into airplanes:)

    Posted on December 18, 2009 at 11:56 PM

  4. Alcareru Said,

    I think jolly ol' saint nick has very little to do with it, it's far more likely that our sedentary lifestyle, little to no exercise and bad eating habits are the culprits. Yes, it is as simple as that!
    And the coke thing - not true apparently:

    Posted on December 19, 2009 at 9:57 AM


Blog Archive

Recent Posts

Peter's Travel Adventures on PhD Nomads

About Us

We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

Donate To Obesity Panacea