Santa should get off his sleigh and walk, and lay off the brandy and mince pies, says a study that criticises Father Christmas for being a bad role model for children.

The current image of Santa Claus promotes obesity, drink-driving, speeding and an unhealthy lifestyle, says a study from Monash University published in the British Medical Journal.

“Epidemiologically there is a correlation between countries that venerate Santa Claus and those that have high levels of childhood obesity,” says the research.

While a clear link has not been established, there “is a possibility that Santa promotes a message that obesity is synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality,” it says.

Santa should go on diet and the tradition of leaving him cookies, mince pies, milk, brandy or sherry should cease, it says. Instead, he could share the carrots and celery sticks often left for his reindeer.

“Santa might also be encouraged to adopt a more active method to deliver toys – swapping his reindeer for a bike or simply walking or jogging,” the study says.

It also questions his drinking saying the brandies often left for him would mean that with a few billion houses to visit, he would soon be driving his sleigh over the limit.

Santa impersonators also have potential to spread infectious diseases: if they sneeze or cough around 10 times a day, all the children who sit on their laps may end up with swine flu, the researchers say.

And although Santa is banned from smoking in public, images of him enjoying a pipe or cigar can still be found on Christmas cards.

The study also accuses Santa of promoting speeding, disregard for road rules, and extreme sports such as roof surfing and chimney jumping – although he is never shown wearing a seatbelt or a helmet.

Santa is one of the most famous fictional characters in the world and is even more recognised in the United States than Ronald McDonald while also gaining popularity in the developing world, the study says.

His popularity should be used to promote health living, says the study, offering a new image for Santa in slimmed-down form and on a treadmill.

“We need to be aware that Santa has an ability to influence people, and especially children, towards unhealthy behaviour,” the researchers say.

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