It had to come someday. Mounting evidence shows that the ultimate corrupter of our young people is a slovenly, brandy-swilling, disease-carrying fat old guy named Santa.
Or so writes Nathan J. Grills, a public health fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.
It may sound a bit on the silly side, but Grills has found a receptive audience. When I Googled "Santa should walk" after reading Grills' treatise, I found 25,800,000 hits.
And Grills backs up his conclusions with field experience. He confesses to having played Santa himself, where he was exposed to all sorts of diseases borne by kids who just wanted to kiss his cheeks.
"I was kissed and hugged by snotty nosed kids at each performance and was never offered alcohol swabs to wipe my rosy cheeks between clients," he writes. Thus, he became a potential carrier of diseases that could infect hundreds of kids, although not on the scale of the real Santa, who has to visit billions of homes around the globe in a single evening.
Grills' humorous essay is not intended entirely to be entertaining. Behind his unflattering portrait of Santa lies a well known truth: Image really does matter. And that is especially significant for children.
He cites other research showing that Santa is the most recognized fictional figure among American children, just barely beating out Ronald McDonald. So, before we let our children emulate this "rotund sedentary image" who has obviously had too many cookies, maybe it's worth taking a look at Grills' argument.
"Epidemiologically, there is a correlation between countries that venerate Santa Claus and those that have high levels of childhood obesity," Grills says, citing a study in the journal Pediatric Health Care. Correlation does not prove causality, he concedes, "but there is a temporal pathway whereby Santa promotes a message that obesity is synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality."
Behind Santa's cheerfulness lies another troubling habit, Grills argues. Apparently, there's a physiological reason why Santa's cheeks are so rosy. All that brandy and sherry left on the kitchen table by well-meaning moms undoubtedly takes its toll.
"With a few billion houses to visit, Santa would quickly be over the limit," and thus handling his sled while under the influence, although one critic argues that Santa isn't driving the sleigh, it's actually Rudolph.
Furthermore, Santa should not only avoid the cups of good cheer left on the table after Dad presumably has retired for the evening. He should also dump the cookies and eat the carrots and celery sticks "commonly left for Rudolph." But Grills, not to put too fine a point on it, is more concerned about Santa as a potential conveyer of infectious diseases than merely a bad image for our children. He cites one study that purportedly shows shopping center Santas are coughed on, or sneezed on, up to 10 times a day. And he suspects that health exams for part-time Santas are probably very lax, and in some cases, nonexistent.
So, it's easy to imagine how much greater the problem is for the Real Santa.