Thursday, 17 December 2009

Merry Christmas from public health

In years gone by, the British Medical Journal would occasionally publish tongue-in-cheek articles and satires. Everyone was in on the joke and everyone knew they were only intended to provide a little light reading between the heavy stuff. At first, that's what I assumed this was:

Santa is a public health hazard - promoting obesity and drink-driving, experts have claimed.

Images of a fat, 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.

Very funny, ho, ho, ho! Or perhaps not. Having looked at the original article, this doesn't look like a festive wind-up. It's written by an epidemiologist (naturally) and an illustrator (!), and it appears that they are deadly serious:

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."

This little statistic reminds me of those overly optimistic entrepreneurs you see on Dragon's Den who say things like: "There are 3 billion women in the world. If only 0.1% of them buy our product, we will make £12 million." Yes, but what is your evidence for thinking that anyone will buy your product? 

And what is the BMJ's evidence for saying that a fat Santa damages anyone's health, let alone that it damages the health of the world by 0.1%?

"We propose a new image for Santa to ensure that his influence on public health is a positive one."

Of course you do. And this will begin, I imagine, with a campaign to have something banned. Quite unbelievable.

The full article is behind a pay wall at the moment. I'll read it all tomorrow and it had better turn out to be an elaborate hoax, because if this is meant to be taken seriously, there is no hope.


Anonymous said...

Grills was interviewed on the radio today, and I gave up counting the number of times he said "it is tongue in cheek" .... and he also said more than once that he didn't want to change Santa's image ...

Curmudgeon said...

I love the way on your pic Prince Albert smoking tobacco comes in a "gay Christmas box" ;-)

banned said...

"Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1% to damage millions of lives."

Give me strength.

Thomas said...

Yeah, it was a joke (although apparently not meant to be an elaborate hoax):

banned said...

Might have been a hoax but how are we supposed to tell when these deranged lunatics keep spouting their phoney scares backed up by fake science or none ?