Characters in the UK’s biggest soap operas are setting a bad example with high levels of unhealthy eating and alcohol consumption, a new study by the Co-operative Group has revealed.

The society, in conjunction with Liverpool John Moores University Business School, analysed 830 scenes from Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks over a two-week period and found unhealthy eating habits, potentially dangerous amounts of alcohol drinking and alarmingly low levels of physical activity.

Of all the drinks consumed by characters, 57% were either alcoholic or sugary, compared to just 6% which were considered healthy. As much as 72% of the food consumed, or referred to, was unhealthy. There were only five references or examples of exercise.

Emmerdale was found to have the unhealthiest characters, with 79% of all food-related scenes featuring unhealthy eating, and more than half (53%) of all the drinks consumed, or made reference to, alcoholic.

Emmerdale’s Eric Pollard was also the unhealthiest character of any soap – he was either drinking or referring to alcohol in 62% of scenes.

“I’m a self-confessed soap addict, but this study clearly highlights the irresponsible approach taken to diet and health by the scriptwriters,” said Janet Taylor, diet and health manager for the Co-op Group’s food business.

“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,” she added.

“We’re calling on the programme makers to present a more balanced picture.”