Is a Slim Santa Claus Coming to Town?

Once upon a time, a lively old man named Santa Claus worked very hard — all by himself, not exploiting animals or short people — to make safe, educational toys to deliver to children all over the world on Christmas Eve. Santa exercised regularly, and ate a balanced diet of whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy body mass index. He never drank alcohol or smoked a pipe. And, while a sleigh would make his job of delivering presents easier, he donned his running shoes and globe-trotted on foot. Santa left the toys for the boys and girls outside their front doors, as to not endanger himself by climbing on an icy, snowy roof or creating a fire hazard by plunging down a chimney. Plus, he would never want to be accused of breaking and entering.

This may not be the traditional image of Santa Claus, but maybe it should be, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The public health experts conducting the study report that Santa’s history of bad behavior is catching up with him. Supposedly, Santa is promoting obesity, speeding, and drinking and, therefore, damaging millions of young lives. Instead, the authors suggest, Santa should be used to promote healthy lifestyle choices. They go so far as to suggest that Santa give up the cookies in favor of his reindeer’s vegetables, and forgo the sleigh for a bike or a good pair of running shoes. If he keeps his sleigh, Santa definitely needs to give up the brandy, the authors claim, as this makes Santa the poster child for drunk-driving accidents just waiting to happen. Plus, he needs to wear a helmet and a seatbelt. And, slow down. (Santa has to travels at millions of times a safe speed limit to make all his stops on time.)

BMJ authors deny claims of being akin to Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch, but insist they want to open a public debate about advertising and public health. Should Santa be allowed to sell alcohol and unhealthy foods? Should advertisers put Santa next to Ronald McDonald and call it a day?

With all the unhealthy influences in the lives of children, should Santa Claus really be destroyed? By mid-childhood, most kids understand that Santa is not a real person and that he is just a symbol used to promote kindness and giving. The generosity and devotion fulfilled by Santa Claus far outweighs any bad influences that he may present to kids. Besides, participating in charitable giving and philanthropic behaviors makes people healthier.

Granted, Santa is not the best role model of healthy living, but he is also NOT REAL. Santa is an embodiment of the love, devotion, and generosity of the holiday season, and that is very real.


Grzywacz JG, Keyes CL. Toward health promotion: physical and social behaviors in complete health. Am J Health Behav. Mar-Apr 2004;28(2):99-111.

Grills, N., & Halyday, B. (2009). Santa Claus: a public health pariah? BMJ, 339 (dec16 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b5261

Cyr C. Do reindeer and children know something that we don’t? Pediatric inpatients’ belief in Santa Claus. Cmaj. Dec 10 2002;167(12):1325-1327.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
See All Posts By The Author