Friday, 25 December 2009

British Medical Journal: Santa Claus is a bad public health example

(Image by A B Lobo) He's fat, drinks a lot, feeds on sweets and smokes a pipe. This is the none too healthy image of Santa Claus, according to the 'British Medical Journal', which publishes a study on the old man's bad habits and what he can do to improve his health. The study by Nathan Grills and Brendan Halyday, of Monash University of Melbourne, Australia, suggests Santa could learn a few things about dieting and healthy living. For instance, he could start eating more vegetables by sharing a carrot or two with Rudolph, who also comes in for some criticism in another study. And he should give up his pipe: no more smoking. It's bad for him and the elves, not to mention the people whose homes he breaks into to deliver presents. He likes his drink, but binges: on one night a year he drinks for the North Pole at every home on Earth, where families often leaves out more than just a glass of milk. As they say, don't drink and drive. But we don't know what he does the other 365 days. Not enough exercise, says the study. This is apparent in his rotundity.>
Santa Claus long ago displaced the Virgin Mary and baby as the most unmistakable Christmas iconography. The study, taken among hospital inpatients, concluded that awareness of Santa was near universal. Given Santa’s fame, he has considerable potential to influence individual and societal behaviour—and not necessarily for good. Santa is a late adopter of evidence based behaviour change and continues to sport a rotund sedentary image. But this is not the only example where Santa’s behaviour and public image are at odds with contemporary accepted public health messages.

If he contracted Swine Flu and coughed or sneezed ten times in a working day - well, what about all those children sitting in his lap all over the world? No, Santa is definitely in for it.

So is Rudolph (yes the red nosed one). He's not too healthy either, apparently. How did he get his red nose? Some say that his nasal congestion comes from a cold, but there are those who believe he's drunk from sharing booze with Santa. Or he could be sad because the old croak takes all the milk and biscuits people leave out for them.

However, a study years ago by Odd Halvorsen, of Oslo University, concluded that Rudolph's red nose comes from a parasitic infection. It's a warm little place, the nose, full of folds and blood vessels: the perfect place for certain type of worms. (Halvorsen, a serious scientist, says he gathered more fame for this piece of research than any other he has ever published. Odd, isn't it?)

The stern Australian report is probably expecting to see Father Christmas in better shape next year. He could make that a New Year's resolution, but we know what happens to those.

(Photo: Internet) Which brings us to The Three Wise Men, The Magi, los Reyes Magos. They don't look too bad, all in all, though one of them bears an increasingly distinct resemblance to the old man above. The camels don't look like reindeer, admittedly, but they do slobber a lot, and cough and sneeze and grumble. Can we expect a serious university study on them, perhaps from the University of Salamanca, or have they better things to do?

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