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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 March 2007, 00:13 GMT
Shows 'encourage teen drinking'
EastEnders characters
EastEnders characters are often seen with a drink
Teenagers may be encouraged to drink more because television soap operas are "awash with alcohol", according to a survey published in The Food Magazine.

It reveals alcohol, shown in background scenes or being consumed by characters, accounts for considerable screen time.

Alcohol featured in 18% of scenes shown during Hollyoaks, in more than 17% in Coronation Street and 16% in Emmerdale.

Study author Cally Matthews said there was a real danger teenagers could be desensitised to the dangers of alcohol.

"Soap shows are awash with scenes showing alcohol being consumed as part of a seemingly healthy lifestyle and appearing as a normal part of everyday life," she said.

"There is a real danger that this naturalisation of alcohol consumption may desensitise teenagers to the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption."

Background scenes

EastEnders fared little better in the survey, with alcohol shown in 16% of scenes. Home and Away was the exception, with alcohol limited to 6.7% of screen time.

During the two-week survey period alcohol appeared as the most dominant food group in Hollyoaks, appearing in almost 40% of background scenes.

If an underage character is shown drinking then the act is followed by a negative consequence
Channel 4 spokeswoman

The Channel 4 soap claims it is the UK's most watched teenage drama serial and it is televised from Monday to Friday at 1830 GMT, immediately after the Simpsons.

The survey's case was questioned by the makers of Hollyoaks, who said the show's editorial team act responsibly to ensure the negative consequences of drinking alcohol are shown.

"For example, if an underage character is shown drinking then the act is followed by a negative consequence, such as the character being sick or being severely reprimanded by a parental figure," said a Channel 4 spokeswoman.

"This is in accordance with guidelines set up by broadcasting regulatory bodies and in keeping with the tone of the show," she added.

But the charity Alcohol Concern believes that TV soaps present a one-dimensional view of drinking.

"The message that comes across in these programmes is that drinking and getting drunk is risk-free," said a spokeswoman.

"Television soaps are prime-time viewing for young people.

"We would like to see screen writers introducing many more episodes about the true impact of alcohol on the community - not just the pleasurable, glamorous side of it."

Aid to romance

The survey data is backed up by other studies, including one from Alcohol Concern.

Their report - The Portrayal of Alcohol and Alcohol Consumption in Television News and Drama Programmes (Hansen 2003) - surveyed soap opera content over several weeks.

It found that, on average, there were seven drinking scenes every hour, with alcohol used primarily for celebrations and as an aid to romance.

The study also found there was a tendency on the part of soap operas to portray potential problem drinkers in a humorous and light-hearted way, though it found no explicit portrayal of alcoholism.

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