By: J. Justin Wilson
Newspaper: Tampa Tribune

Every year as I wait eagerly for Christmas, it seems some folks can’t get into the holiday spirit. Sometimes they bicker over whether to say “Christmas” tree or “holiday” tree. Others trample people for Black Friday deals.

But worst of all, lately I keep seeing public health activists say you’re a bad example for kids. This year, all I want for Christmas is for you to shove some coal down these nosy do-gooders’ stockings — and tell them to stuff it.

I’m sure you read a recent editorial in the British Medical Journal claiming that your “behaviour and public image are at odds with contemporary accepted public health messages.” (OK, maybe you didn’t.) A U.S. surgeon general once echoed this sentiment, saying kids’ role models have to be “in good shape, eating well and getting exercise.” (What next? Will they declare your beard a choking hazard?)

They’ve got a beef with how you roll — flying your sleigh without wearing a helmet, jumping down chimneys without any safety lines and, most of all, being fat.

No doubt they’d prefer it if everybody left you a plate of boiled carrots and steamed spinach instead of sugary cookies. And don’t you know that bottled water has fewer calories than milk?

But let’s be honest: How are you supposed to deliver all those presents if you have to walk, jog or run everywhere to burn off your paunch and please the naysayers?

Fortunately, there are a few ways you can defend yourself against these Christmas killjoys.

For one, a few candy canes in stockings aren’t responsible for kids getting fat. It’s all about balancing calories taken in through food with calories burned through activity.

Along these lines, consider dishing out a few Xboxes, PS3s and Wiis. Video games are becoming a way for kids to do something they like while staying physically active. Interestingly, researchers from the U.K. discovered that kids burned 150 calories per hour playing Wii games. That’s 156 percent more energy than if kids spent an hour on Facebook. I can’t imagine that kids in North Dakota hit the playground very often in January, after all.

A new survey out of the University of Illinois at Chicago finds that only six states meet the National Association of Sports and Physical Education’s standard that schoolchildren participate in 150 minutes a week of physical education.

Second, you can leave these public health spoilsports a letter letting them know that slugging bags of presents and climbing up and down chimneys is hard work. Be sure to mention that you are indeed staying fit — which evidence suggests is more important than your belly circumference. A 2007 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association determined that physical activity levels, regardless of weight, determine longevity.

I know it can be hard to eat healthy. I can’t imagine the North Pole vegetable garden worked out too well, but keep up your Christmas-delivering preparations at the gym all year-round and you’ll be set.

Lastly, feel free to point out that St. Nicholas was born in the year 245 AD. You’ve beaten the life expectancy by quite a bit. So have a swig of eggnog, and I’ll put out an extra plate of cookies.