UK soap stars are portraying irresponsible lifestyles, with high levels of unhealthy eating and alcohol consumption, and a total lack of exercise, according to a new study by The Co-operative Food, which reveals the full extent of the characters’ unhealthy lifestyles displayed during prime-time TV.
Working with Liverpool John Moores University Business School, more than 830 scenes of the UK’s four most popular soaps – Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks – were analysed over a two-week period to provide an in-depth character examination.
The results revealed unhealthy eating habits, potentially dangerous amounts of alcohol drinking and alarmingly low levels of physical activity. In total, viewers were exposed to almost 10 times as many examples of characters drinking or referring to alcohol, compared to healthy drinks. Of all the drinks consumed by characters, 57% were either alcoholic or sugary, compared to just 6% which were considered healthy, while copious amounts of tea and coffee were also drunk.
According to findings, 72% of the food consumed, or referred to, was unhealthy – three times the amount of healthy food, and the level of exercise undertaken by characters across the four soaps was virtually non-existent, with only five references or examples of exercise across the entire two-week period.
Yorkshire’s favourite village, Emmerdale, was the unhealthiest in the whole of soapland, with 79% of all food-related scenes featuring unhealthy eating, and more than half (53%) of all the drinks consumed, or made reference to, being alcoholic. Emmerdale had the most examples of adults drinking alcohol in front of children. In two separate episodes, larger than life old-age pensioner, Sandy Thomas drinks whisky in his den in front of impressionable teenager, Sean Spencer.
Despite having previously suffered a heart attack, Emmerdale’s long-serving, Eric Pollard is the overall unhealthiest soap star, with the highest amount of unhealthy eating and unhealthy drinking of all soap characters. Eric is either drinking or referring to alcohol in 62% of scenes he’s in, either drinking during the daytime in the Woolpack, or at home, with a glass of red wine by his side while cooking dinner.
Residents of Albert Square were the second worst-offending soap stars, with 87% of all food eaten, or referred to, being unhealthy. Smoking levels were the highest, too, with smoking featured in 5% of all scenes, due to the nicotine habits of soap stalwart, Dot Branning, and her wayward stepson, Max Branning. And, despite the amount of unhealthy food consumed, there were no examples of characters undertaking any form of exercise.
In the leafy suburbs of Hollyoaks set in Chester, the lifestyles of the young and trendy were also surprisingly unhealthy – 64% of all food consumed, or referred to, was unhealthy, and 54% of all drinks were alcoholic. Across scenes set in the evening, the amount of alcoholic drinks consumed or referred to, increased to a staggering 91%. During the two-week period, young mum, Theresa McQueen, was the only character to undertake any exercise, with just one trip to the gym.
On the cobbles of Weatherfield, Coronation Street provides a healthier picture when it comes to mealtimes, with 41% of all food consumed, or referred to, being healthy, making Corrie the healthiest soap. Loveable Fiz Stape has the healthiest diet in soapland, even commenting that the skin on a jacket potato was the “best bit”. Dev Alahan’s children, Aadi and Aisha, went swimming once during the two-week period, which is more exercise than anyone else on the street. However, this activity is tempered somewhat by the kids eating a bag of chips each in their dad’s shop afterwards.
The study is intended to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy, balanced diet and coincides with the launch of a new range of healthier products from The Co-operative, designed to make it easier for customers to make healthier and informed choices.
Janet Taylor, diet and health manager, The Co-operative Food, said: “I’m a self-confessed soap addict, but this study clearly highlights the irresponsible approach taken to diet and health by the scriptwriters. Fruit bowls may feature in a couple of shots, but only one character is shown eating fruit during the entire two-week study – Minute Mart co-owner, Denise Fox, in EastEnders, is seen eating a tangerine while lying on the floor drunk.
“As a retailer committed to helping people make healthier choices for themselves and their families, we’re hoping that by uncovering the unrealistic and potentially dangerous lifestyles portrayed in the soaps, people will recognise that their favourite characters could run the risk of heart disease and obesity if they adopted these lifestyles in real life. We’re calling on the programme makers to present a more balanced picture.”