It has been suggested that Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as he is known in the land of the sane, is Very Bad Indeed. At least according to one Dr Nathan Grills from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine at Monash University in Australia who has carried out a "review of literature and web-based material" in order to "assess Santa's potential negative impact on public health".

Initially it seems that Dr Grills sought to establish how well known this Santa was amongst the community. Apparently Dr Grills's investigations revealed a "very high Santa awareness among children", whilst he made reference to a recent study amongst (presumably Australian) "hospital inpatients" which had concluded that "awareness of Santa was near universal". Having thus demonstrated that the Vicar of Rome was indeed a Catholic, he then considered to the potential negative effects such a widespread fame might have on the population.

The tradition of leaving out a glass of brandy or sherry and the odd mince pie to sustain Santa on his global travels came in for criticism since, by so doing we are all potentially promoting drink-driving, while the regular consumption of all that food would explain why Santa is typically portrayed as an individual with a less than ideal body mass index with its attendant health problems. The doctor also objected to the way in which Santa was "often used to promote unhealthy products such as soft drinks". Coca-Cola was naturally mentioned, although whether Dr Grills was aware of the fact, that together with Clement Clarke Moore, the Coca-Cola corporation practically invented Santa Claus in the first place wasn't clear.

Worse was to come when the doctor also complained that Santa "had the potential to spread harmful diseases". Readers will no doubt be aware that it is common for many of the world's children to pay a visit to 'Santa's Grotto' during the holiday season and place themselves upon his lap; a phenomenon that naturally leaves them at risk of infection, since "If Santa sneezes or coughs around 10 times a day, all the children who sit on his lap may end up with swine flu as well as their Christmas present".

Now of course it wasn't clear as to whether Dr Grills was being entirely serious. After all it is highly likely that even members of the medical profession are in a possession of a sense of humour, and his learned article Santa Claus: a public health pariah?, which appeared in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal may well have been written as an entertainment rather than as a serious contribution to public health policy. Unfortunately the online version of the BMJ is only available to paid subscribers of that publication and thus it was not possible to search the source document for clues as to the doctor's true intent. In any event, Dr Grills was quoted as saying that it was all "about raising wider issues around advertising and public health", which would seem to suggest that humour was not his primary motivation. Indeed the doctor went on to complain that since Christmas was "about a loving and giving", he wanted to "reclaim that part of Santa, not seeing him used as a pawn in a marketing campaign."

At least not in someone else's marketing campaign.


  • Martin Evans, Santa promotes obesity and drink-driving, claims health expert, Daily Telegraph, 17 Dec 2009
  • Lucie van den Berg, Monash University public health expert Dr Nathan Grills says Santa Claus promotes obesity, speeding, drink-driving, Herald Sun, December 18, 2009

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