Did you leave your carrots and celery sticks out for Santa Claus last night? The day before Christmas, Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted out some dietary thoughts about Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve visit to your home. He mused, “If people left carrots, celery, and hot tea for Santa on the table instead of milk and cookies, I bet he’d be much, much thinner,” as you can see here:
This was pure speculation on Tyson’s behalf. He did not offer a peer-reviewed publication in a reputable scientific journal. He didn’t even offer a pre-print.
Now Santa Claus hasn’t exactly had the image of being trim. This is largely based on portrayals via TV and movie cameras. And cameras can add poundage. Some have claimed that Santa’s body mass index (BMI) is over 40, a BMI that would fall above 30, which would be in the obesity range. Without a physical exam, though, it’s difficult to verify what his BMI and physical fitness may actually be. BMI is only one measure, and Santa could very well be ripped under his red suit.
Regardless, one night of excessive eating and drinking is probably not going to alter one’s BMI. Instead, one’s BMI is more dependent on what happens over the course of the year. Moreover, while diet plays an important role, it’s not the only thing that can affect BMI. Stress, physical activity, sleep patterns, chemicals in the surroundings, and other factors can play roles as well. That’s why obesity is a systems problem and not just a simple eat too much problem.
So, Tyson shouldn’t assume that a single-night “carrot, celery, and hot tea” switch would really affect Santa’s BMI. In fact, it would be unlikely to make that much of a difference. Plus, don’t assume that tea is necessarily good for you. People can add lots of stuff to tea like sugar, syrup, and hot dogs.
Of course, a single night of overeating can have its consequences. Certainly eating too quickly can raise the risk of choking. Having to give Santa the Heimlich Maneuver in front of the kids would not be a great sight. Also, an overeating episode can lead to heartburn, otherwise known as gastroesophageal reflux, and various types of abdominal discomfort and distress.
Consider the sheer volume of what Santa could possibly eat in one night. According to the World Bank, there are currently 1.977 billion children from the ages of 0 to 14 years in the world. Now it’s not clear how many of these children are bullies, racists, or otherwise naughty. So let’s assume for now every child got presents and that every child left out a single cookie. Indeed, consuming over 1.9 billion cookies would be a bit much for one night. Switching to carrots and celery wouldn’t really be that much of an improvement from a sheer volume perspective either.
Santa probably wouldn’t even be able to get anywhere near the billion cookie or celery stick mark. You’d expect his satiety mechanisms to kick in well before that, say at least as the millionth cookie or celery stick mark. The stretching of the stomach with food alone typically signals to the brain that enough is enough, although there can be a delay in such signaling.
Over the longer term throughout the year, it would be beneficial to switch from cookies to fresh, relatively unprocessed vegetables. Cookies can have too much sugar, saturated fat, salt, and additives such as preservative. Fresh vegetables can be provide much more nutritional value, assuming that they aren’t covered or soaked in unhealthy sauces or other additions. Again, one shouldn’t fret about the occasional night of unhealthy eating. It’s what one does and is surrounded by over the longer run that matters.
The carrot, celery, and hot tea tweet wasn’t Tyson’s only Santa-related tweet over the past day or so. Tyson offered this rather explosive assessment of Santa’s sleigh:
Something’s not quite right here. NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) does state on its website that Santa has delivered over 7.6 billion presents and that it’s been tracking Santa and his sleigh throughout the night. There have been no reports of vaporization. Presumably, the NORAD tracking system is better than the country’s Covid-19 tracking systems and won’t miss activity.
Nevertheless, some folks on the Twitter did urge a Santa pause on what Tyson was tweeting. For example:
In another tweet, Tyson stated that “Santa is pale because he’s in the middle of six months of darkness on Earth’s North Pole. And he delivers gifts only at night:”
Tyson’s tweet assumed that Santa has only one house and that house is on the North Pole. Are those necessarily safe assumptions? For example, As Lisa Kim covered for Forbes, billionaire Elon Musk has claimed that his primary residence is a home worth $50,000 when the Wall Street Journal has reported that Musk actually has been living in a luxury mansion in Austin owned by a wealthy friend. Might Santa have other locations to live as well? Well, Santa, like Donald Trump, has yet to reveal his tax returns. So it’s difficult to determine Santa’s true net worth and assets and how much of it may include real estate versus something else such as cryptocurrency or reindeer-related non-fungible token (NFTs).
Did Tyson do a quantum jump to conclusions without a physical exam or Santa’s medical records? While lack of sun exposure can result in pale skin, there are other possibilities such as anemia, frostbite, and shock. So rather than saying “Santa is pale because,” perhaps Tyson should have said, “Santa may be pale because.” After all, if you see someone passed out on the floor and pale, you shouldn’t automatically assume that the person lives on the North Pole.