A public health expert in Australia has released a study about the health effects of the modern day Santa. CBS News reports that Nathan Grills of Monash University is saying that Santa needs to give up his cushy sleigh and start riding a bike or walking as he delivers gifts all around the world on Christmas. Apparently, he’s a role model and he should start acting like one.

Santa should:

  • Give up the cookies and eat Rudolph’s carrots instead.
  • Forgo his occasional cigar. (I’m unaware of a cigar smoking Santa — maybe that’s an Australian thing?)
  • Wear a helmet while he’s sliding down the chimney.
  • Stop letting little kids slobber all over him — especially in the age of H1N1.
While Grills' Australian study is “light-hearted,” Santas in the United States are hearing about their weight from the president of Santa America. This volunteer organization sends Santas to children and families in crisis. According to The Washington Post, head volunteer Santa Ernest Berger is hoping that his fellow Santas will slim down.

He wants his fellow St. Nicks to give themselves the gift of less girth, calling it "a matter of self-preservation" that will also help children, who see Santa Claus as a roly-poly role model.

He’d like to see the girth of his fellow Santa’s reduced by 25 percent. About one-third of Santa’s are clinically obese, and that’s about the same as the American population.

Slimming the Santas would of course be good for their own health, but would it really make a difference in the health of Americans, especially children? Would children look at a slim Santa and say, “Look! Santa’s skinny. Now I realize I really don’t want to eat those cookies and drink that soda?”

I don’t think so. Kids don’t look to Santa for health inspiration. Santa’s job is not to teach children about nutrition. That job comes from the home first, the schools and our government food programs second. Let’s let Santa be concerned about his own weight, but lets not make him, or the idea of him, responsible for the weight of our children. That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of those who are buying or providing the children with the food that they eat.

This conversation may be light-hearted now, but ideas like this have a way of taking off. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a year or two there were more reports about Santa’s weight and more people calling for Santa to “be a good weight role model.”  

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Should Santa slim down?
Jolly St. Nick is a role model -- and he should start acting like one, says one Australian health expert.