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Santa Not the Best Role Model for Kids' Health

His personal habits more naughty than nice, public health expert says

SUNDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Is Santa Claus really public health enemy No. 1?

Absolutely, says an Australian doctor in a report published in the Dec. 17 online edition of the BMJ. Jolly Old St. Nick promotes obesity, drunken driving, speeding and general unhealthy habits, Dr. Nathan Grills of Monash University in Melbourne contends.

Grills may not be entirely serious: The journal devotes its Christmas issue -- in which the report appears -- to tongue-in-cheek research. Still, the findings provide food (the healthy kind) for thought.

For example, Grills suggested that Santa should share Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer's food -- carrots and celery sticks -- instead of fattening snacks. And the guy in red and white should walk or ride a bike instead of traveling at breakneck speed in his sleigh everywhere.

Because "Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1 percent to damage millions of lives," Grills wrote, he might make a world of difference by becoming more health- conscious.

He noted that Santa is associated with unhealthy products, like Coca-Cola, and often appears with pipe in hand. In some countries, people leave a spot of brandy for Santa, and that could lead to drunken driving, Grills added.

And, finally, what about all those children who sit on Santa's helpers' laps each holiday season? If the jolly old guy impersonating Santa has a cough, he could spread illnesses to them. And that could lead to a very, very unmerry holiday.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has advice to help Santa, and others, lose a few pounds.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Dec. 16, 2009

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