The_Queen_Vic credit Matt Pearson

EastEnders' pub The Queen Vic: Not the venue for healthy eating. Photo: Matt Pearson

Television soap characters such as portly bruiser Phil Mitchell are promoting unhealthy eating habits, according to a new study by the Co-operative Group.

The study, which was run in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University Business School, found that 72 per cent of all the food consumed, or referred to, in British soaps was unhealthy. Researchers analysed over 830 scenes from EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and Coronation Street.

Astonishingly, EastEnders, once famed for Walford entrepreneurIan Beale’s local fruit market stall, was the only soap to feature a fruit-eating character, with Minute Mart co-owner Denise Fox consuming a tangerine while drunk on the shop’s floor in a recent storyline.

Of all the drinks consumed by soap characters, 57 per cent were either alcoholic or sugary, with only six per cent of the drinks considered healthy.

Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, fears that characters are at an increased risk of an on-screen heart attack or stroke if writers don’t get their act together.

'Walford, Coronation Street and Emmerdale would be much healthier places if their famous residents were served up a more balanced diet, got active and drank only the recommended amount of alcohol when the cameras are rolling,' she explained.

And it seems the villagers of Emmerdale are most at risk of Maddock’s warning, with the ITV soap hosting the most unhealthy characters. Researchers found that 79 per cent of all food-related scenes in Emmerdale featured junk food, while the soap also plays host to the most unhealthy character, local OAP businessman Eric Pollard, who was either downing pints or making references to downing pints in 62 per cent of scenes.

Janet Taylor, health manager for the Co-op Group’s food business, says that she hopes the research will encourage screenwriters to make character lifestyles healthier and to consume more fresh produce.

She concluded: “As a retailer committed to helping people make healthier choices, we’re hoping that by uncovering the unrealistic and potentially dangerous lifestyles portrayed in the soaps, people will recognise that their favourite soap characters run the risk of heart disease and obesity in the real world.”