“Santa’s behaviour and public image are at odds with contemporary accepted public health messages,” argues a British Medical Journal editorial written by Dr Scrooge and colleagues. Given Santa’s tremendous popularity, particularly among children, the authors of the editorial argue the public should become aware of some of the less-than-ideal lifestyle practices advocated by jolly St Nick.
The first issue they raise in support of their argument is the pervasive use of Santa Claus to advertise basically everything during the holidays, especially unhealthy food choices such as Coca-Cola products (fair enough). Apparently, it was the Coca-Cola company in the 1930s that developed the contemporary image of Santa Claus that we all recognise today, including his obesity.
And just how obese is Santa?
According to NORAD, Santa Claus weighs in at 260 lbs (118kg) and has a height of 5’7″ (170cm), putting him at a BMI of 40.7 kg/m2. Then again, we know BMI isn’t all that useful anyway.
The authors worry that Santa’s image “promotes a message that obesity is synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality.”
The past US surgeon general is quoted as saying: “It is really important that the people kids look up to as role models are in good shape, eating well and getting exercise. It is absolutely critical.”
To make matters worse, an article by ABC news also suggests that Santa Claus impersonators have been putting on the pounds over the years, potentially helping normalize excess body sizes:
“In 1996, the biggest outfit sold at Santasuits.com was 2X, and sales of oversized suits accounted for just 12 per cent of business. Today, the company offers a 4X, and plus-sized outfits are a third of their business. An original 1948 pattern owned by Western Staff Services Company in California has expanded inch by inch until it now accommodates a St. Nick who exceeds 300 pounds and a 50-inch beltline.”
Personally, here’s where I stand: at a time when discrimination against obese individuals is already rampant, and the large majority of the population is overweight or obese — it may not be a bad idea to have a public character who remains in good spirits despite his expanded waistline.
In fact, as we’ve pointed out numerous times before, the connection between body weight and health isn’t as clear cut as some think. For instance, one can beobese, and yet be metabolically healthy. What seems to set healthy obese from unhealthy obese individuals apart comes down to limited visceral (intra-abdominal) fat accumulation, an earlier onset of obesity (Picture: John Williams/Flickr
This article first appeared on PLOS Blogs and is republished here under Creative Commons licence.