The nation's favourite soap characters should pass up alcohol and hot drinks for a plain glass of water to encourage fans to keep hydrated, according to a study.

Popular soaps like EastEnders and Coronation Street are famed for their pubs, but the prevalence of booze and soft drink consumption in the Queen Vic and the Rovers Return, as well as a host of other dramas, is "shocking" and "unacceptable", an expert has said.

Analysis of nearly 3,000 minutes of national television found little more than one in 20 soap characters' drinks were a glass of water, while more than a third were alcoholic beverages.

Just under half were hot drinks and 7% were soft drinks or fizzy pop, the study for the National Hydration Council (NHC), titled The TV Water Shortage, discovered.

With Britain facing a growing obesity epidemic Emma Kenny, a media psychologist, claimed programme makers had "failed" to take advantage of their ability to positively influence viewers' lifestyles.

She said: "I hope that the findings of this report will prove both informative and shocking to the reader in equal measure, and open his or her eyes to the current, unacceptable state of affairs regarding the representation of healthy hydration in some of the nation's most popular television programmes."

NHC researchers assessed British-made soap operas, dramas and sitcoms set in the present day and shown on BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as The Archers on Radio 4.

Over two one-week periods all the soaps dedicated similar amounts of time to drinks, between 13% and 14%, although Hollyoaks stood out with drinks only receiving 6% of screen time.

The report said: "On all the soap operas monitored water accounted for less than 10% of the screen time devoted to drinks. The two BBC soap operas (EastEnders and Doctors) did, however, record slightly higher percentages at 9% and 8% respectively compared with Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks."

In the ITV soaps Coronation Street and Emmerdale, beer was the most popular alcoholic tipple, while EastEnders characters were more likely to have a glass of wine, as did Doctors, although the GPs were most likely to drink water.