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santa-fight-clubDear Santa,

We're worried about you. From your rosy red cheeks to your legendary girth to your all-night sleigh ride around the world, you may be at risk for diseases, maladies, mishaps and lawsuits that send chills through our Santa-loving hearts.

The latest warning comes from the National Rosacea Society in Barrington, Illinois. Dermatologist Dr. Jerome Litt says you have "a clear-cut case of rosacea," a skin condition that also affects millions of Americans, particularly at middle age. Unable to examine you personally, the good doctor based his finding on a well-circulated report that your "cheeks were like roses, (your) nose like a cherry." Sadly, many observers conclude that red-skin condition comes from hitting the Christmas-punch bowl a little too hard. Sadder still, rosacea can be aggravated by holiday stress, hot chocolate and overexertion...all things you may encounter this time of year.

The one bright note in Dr. Litt's message is that certain antibiotics can help, and he advises you to see a North Pole dermatologist. But the news about your facial tint is only our latest source of concern. A careful examination of what we know about you and your lifestyle raises a host of other trouble signs - OBESITY: Frankly, Santa, this may be your biggest area of concern. Studies show overweight men have more than double the normal risk of heart attacks and increased chances of many other diseases. We've seen the pictures; we've noticed you in the malls. And we've heard that your tummy shakes "like a bowlful of jelly" when you chuckle. On this, we'll take part of the blame. All these years, we've set out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve. With 102 million homes in the U.S. alone, even if 1 in 100 homes put out two cookies and a cup of milk, that would make an overnight snack of 2,000,000 cookies and 63,750 gallons of milk. Maybe it's time for Mrs. Claus to get you a NordicTrack or a Thighmaster. But be sure to consult a physician before beginning any exercise regimen.

PIPE SMOKING: You've been pictured with a pipe, and even though an apologist in The New York Times once claimed it's only a prop, a witness who encountered you in his home said "the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath." According to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, pipe and cigar smokers have twice a nonsmoker's risk for lung cancer, four times the risk for larynx cancer and two to three times the risk for cancers of the mouth and esophagus. Even if the pipe's just a prop, it might be a good idea to lose it. Remember, you're not just a saint, you're a role model.

STRESS: Dealing with Christmas wishes from millions of kiddies could certainly put one on the emotional hot seat. And anxiety can surpass even smoking as a risk for certain heart problems. On this point, though, we have some good news A medical news service says laughter--as evidenced by your trademark "Ho, ho, ho"--is one of the best stress-busters going.

SOOT: We admire your ability to slip up and down the average chimney, an opening about 12 inches by 16 inches. But creosote flakes on the chimney walls are toxic and can lead to respiratory problems. Brent Rigby of Emerald City Chimney Sweeps in Kirkland (WA) said his people never actually go into a chimney, and wear protective masks when they reach up through the fireplace to vacuum the soot.

RSI (REPETITIVE STRAIN INJURY): Cards and letters by the bagful arrive on your doorstep through regular mail, but this year we've noticed you're also receiving, and answering, e-mail on at least four Internet addresses. We applaud your move on to the information superhighway, with this caution: Too much keyboard work can result in painful injuries to the hands, wrists and arms.

DEER MITES: Close, continuous contact with your trusty reindeer means if they get mites, so might you, says Dr. David DuClos, a veterinary dermatologist in Lynnwood (WA). Watch out for itchy rashes, and keep the deer out of your bed.

FROSTBITE, HYPOTHERMIA: You usually bundle up, and that's good. A Weather Service satellite recently showed the temperature at the North Pole was 13 below zero, and high winds are common. Exposure to such conditions can cause frostbite in minutes.

MALL THUGS: You spend a lot of time in shopping malls, so you already know things are getting a little tough out there. Try not to walk back to your sleigh at night alone.

MEMORY TROUBLE: It's been said that you make a list, then check it twice.
Just being careful, or are you developing a little memory problem?

SAD (SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER): This time of year, there is virtually no daylight at the North Pole, and a lack of sunlight can trigger depression in some people. Maybe a full-spectrum light would help keep you jolly.

VIRAL INFECTIONS: A young witness saw you kissing Mommy underneath the mistletoe last night. You know this is cold and flu season, don't you?

JET LAG: Fatigue, dizziness and insomnia are all dangers that travelers face when they cross through several times zones. And few travelers cross all 24 of them in one night, like you do.

SLEIGH ACCIDENTS: We've seen plenty of pictures of you in that sleigh, but never with a seat belt, and we'd sure hate to see you get hurt. By the way, when you cruise through metropolitan areas, be sure to cover the load. You wouldn't want to have an accident that would boost your insurance rates would you.

Which reminds us: You DO have insurance, don't you?

Sincerely, Jack Brown Seattle, Washington

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