Santa 'sets a bad example'
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."
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.
This was published in the British Medical Journal? **Shakes head** .....
UPDATE: After knirirr's comment I did a bit more research and found that the article I had read and linked to wasn't the full one - here's an extract from another article.
Dr Grills admits he wrote his paper to be "tongue in cheek" and it's up to the reader to decide how much of his paper they believe, "a bit like Santa Claus".
He says he wrote the paper when he needed a break from his PhD.
Dr Grills hopes the article will make good dinner time conversation and insists that he doesn't believe Santa is a force for evil.
"I think Santa is a good role model for kids in terms of giving gifts and being generous. The true St Nick was a very generous bishop."
Despite the humour of the paper, Dr Grills says there is a serious message we should take from it.
"If Santa is a figure that appeals to kids and he's used by big corporations to market alcohol and the like, then basically he's marketing those products to kids."