Santa is a public health hazard – promoting obesity and drink-driving, experts said today.
Images of an overweight jolly and somewhat tipsy Father Christmas send out the wrong message and could damage millions of lives, they said.
Instead of sitting back in his sleigh and breaking the speed limit, Santa should get off and walk or jog.
Obese Santa also needs to swap the brandy and mince pies left out by hopeful children for carrots and celery sticks stolen from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Dr Nathan Grills and illustrator Brendan Halyday, from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said the current image of Santa promotes obesity, drink-driving, speeding and a general unhealthy lifestyle.
Santa’s universal fame means he is used by companies around the globe to sell all kinds of products, including unhealthy foods, they went on.
For example, there is very high awareness of Santa among young children - higher than the McDonald’s Ronald McDonald.
“If Ronald McDonald can be so effective at selling burgers to children, we might expect Santa to be equally effective at selling other goods,” said the study's author.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the authors said Santa used to also sell cigarettes but that has now been banned.
They went on to provide a full list of Santa’s unhealthy behaviours, including encouraging fathers to step in and eat leftover mince pies, thereby expanding their own waistlines.
With billions of homes to visit, Santa is also soon over the drink-driving limit due to too many brandies and sherries.
“Other dangerous activities that Santa could be accused of promoting include speeding, disregard for road rules, and extreme sports such as roof surfing and chimney jumping.
“Despite the risks of high speed air travel Santa is never depicted wearing a seatbelt or a helmet.”
With Santa coughing or sneezing up to 10 times a day, he may also pass on infections such as swine flu to children, the authors wrote.
A shortage of Santa "helpers" means people are never checked for any illnesses they may be carrying or given help to protect them from sick children.
The authors conclude there is a need for Santa to undergo an image overhaul - one that promotes healthy living.
“We need to be aware that Santa has an ability to influence people, and especially children, towards unhealthy behaviour,” they said.
“Given Santa’s universal appeal, and reasoning from a population health perspective, Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1% to damage millions of lives.
“We propose a new image for Santa to ensure that his influence on public health is a positive one.”