Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Soaps 'miss out health messages'

EastEnders' Dot Cotton played by June Brown
Dot Cotton is a heavy smoker

Soap characters with unhealthy lifestyles should be shown reaping the consequences, say doctors.

Private healthcare firm Bupa has released its "top ten" unhealthiest characters, arguing they could be used to hammer home health messages.

It said heavy smoker Dot Cotton, from Eastenders, should appear breathless, with heavy drinkers in soaps having broken veins.

A BBC spokesman said it always tried to depict illnesses accurately.

Dot Cotton, Eastenders: Smoker
Shadrach Dingle, Emmerdale: Alcohol dependent
Tyrone Dobbs, Coronation Street: Unhealthy diet
Heather Trott, Eastenders: Unhealthy diet
Louise Summers, Hollyoaks: Alcohol dependent
Shirley Carter, Eastenders: Drinks too much alcohol
Charlie Slater, Eastenders: Unhealthy diet
Lloyd Mullaney, Coronation Street: Unhealthy diet
Fiz Brown, Coronation Street: Unhealthy diet
Leo Valentine, Hollyoaks: Drinks too much alcohol
The survey comes as research at Derby University suggested an average of 17 units of alcohol were downed on every episode of "Emmerdale", with a third of its residents potentially classed as "depressed drinkers", according to Department of Health guidelines.

Many of the characters who are smoking, eating unhealthily or drinking too much, are shown as being in perfect health, said Dr Peter Mace, Bupa's assistant medical director.

"Characters who have been smoking for many years have implausibly good health.

"Though Dot Cotton has a smoker's voice - deeper than you might expect, she does not seem to be short of breath or wheezy, while Shadrach Dingle, from Emmerdale, should, by rights, have a red face with some broken veins that you may see with his alcohol consumption.

"Tyrone Dobbs, from Coronation Street, consumes far too much saturated fat and does little or no exercise, which would realistically lead to high cholesterol levels which, in turn, may lead to heart disease."

Emmerdale's Shadrach Dingle, played by Andy Devine
Shadrach Dingle is an alcoholic
He said that viewers would be influenced by the "everyday lives" they see acted out on the television.

"We ask that soap opera scriptwriters portray the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle more realistically, such as in the way they've handled other medical issues such as cancer or Aids.

"The soaps are an important way of getting a message across."

Soap characters are not always immune to their poor lifestyles - with, for example, heart attacks for Coronation Street's Jack Duckworth and Fred Elliot.

A spokesman for the BBC said: "'EastEnders' has always highlighted health issues such as HIV and mental illness in storylines which have really engaged viewers.

"Medical dramas such as Holby and Casualty often show the more subtle nuances of medical health matters."

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