Santa bad for your health

Last updated 05:00 18/12/2009
santa
AP
BAD INFLUENCE: A huge plastic doll of Santa Claus is displayed in celebration of the Christmas season in Sao Paulo.

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Santa Claus has been accused of acting in ways that could "damage millions of lives".

As the mythical man in red zooms around the planet delivering gifts, he is an unwitting promoter of obesity, unhealthy products, disease and even drink driving, according to an Australian academic.

"Other dangerous activities that Santa could be accused of promoting include speeding, disregard for road rules and extreme sports such as roof surfing and chimney jumping," said Dr Nathan Grills, public health fellow at Monash University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine.

"Despite the risks of high speed air travel, Santa is never depicted wearing a seatbelt or helmet."

In a paper published by the British Medical Journal, Dr Grills said Santa Claus' contemporary image became cemented in the public consciousness through a series of Coca Cola advertisements that began in the 1930s.

His image was subsequently used in tobacco advertising and, while most countries had moved to ban this, it was common to still see Santa pictured on Christmas cards with a pipe in hand.

A study found Santa Claus was the only fictional character that was more highly recognised by US children than Ronald McDonald.

"If Ronald McDonald can be so effective at selling burgers to children, we might expect Santa to be equally effective at selling other goods," Dr Grills said.

"... Public health needs to be aware of what giant multinational capitalists realised long ago, that Santa sells and sometimes he sells harmful products."

Dr Grills said countries like India were increasingly celebrating Christmas, and Santa's image could again be used to sell harmful products where there was less regulation of advertising.

Santa's "rotund sedentary image" also had the effect of making "obesity synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality" around the world, he said.

Children were also encouraged to leave out brandy, or other hard liquor, for a man who had to do a lot of travel and visit a lot of houses all in one night.

Amid a global swine flu pandemic, Dr Grills said most people who stood in as Santa impersonators were not required to undergo a health check - and they get "kissed and hugged" by a succession of "snotty-nosed kids".

"We need to be aware that Santa has an ability to influence people, and especially children, towards unhealthy behaviour," he said.

"Given Santa's universal appeal, and reasoning from a public health perspective, Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1 per cent to damage millions of lives."

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Instead using a sleigh, Santa should be "encouraged to adopt a more active method to deliver toys - swapping his reindeer for a bike or simply walking or jogging", Dr Grills said.

- AAP

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