National report reveals ‘upselling’ is fuelling the obesity crisis

Posted On: 
7th September 2017

MPs respond to a new report that reveals the drip-drip effect of being upsold to 106 times per year leads to us consuming potentially gaining 5lbs over 12 months.

The findings showed that young people are even more likely to be exposed to upselling, with 18-24 year-olds experiencing it 166 times each year.
Credit: 
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Upselling techniques used in coffee shops, petrol stations, fast food outlets, newsagents, restaurants, cinemas and pubs are fuelling the obesity epidemic by leading customers to consume thousands of additional calories, a new report reveals.

The report, which includes research of 2,055 people, shows that consumers face an average of 106 verbal pushes towards unhealthy choices each year as they are asked whether they would like to upgrade to larger meals and drinks, add high calorie toppings or sides to their order or take advantage of special offers on unhealthy food and drink.

Published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Slimming World, the report exposes that the average person consumes an additional 330 calories each week – 17,000 per year – as a result of businesses upselling high calorie food and drink. Over the course of the year that could result in an estimated weight gain of 5lbs.

The findings showed that young people are even more likely to be exposed to upselling, with 18-24 year-olds experiencing it 166 times each year – nearly every other day – and going on to consume an extra 750 calories per week as a result. This could lead to an estimated weight gain of 11lbs over the course of a year.

To combat the problem, RSPH and Slimming World are calling for health professionals to use Making Every Contact Count initiatives to make the public aware of the ‘unhealthy conversations’ they may encounter and for responsible businesses and retailers to receive business rates relief for promoting healthier choices. The criteria to qualify should include:

  • Businesses do not train staff to upsell unhealthy, high-calorie food and drink - such as foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) as defined by the nutrient profile model developed by the Foods Standards Agency (FSA).
  • Businesses to pledge to only upsell healthy food and drink
  • Businesses provide clear in-store calorie information for all their food and drink products (including alcohol).
  • Staff pay is not linked to the upselling of unhealthy, high-calorie food and drink. Businesses should not financially incentivise food and drink that is damaging to the public's health when consumed to excess.

MPs have responded to the newly published report calling for more to be done to educate consumers.

Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Public Health, said:

“The promotion of unhealthy food has clearly infiltrated our society and is contributing significantly to the burgeoning obesity crisis we see today.

“Alongside the many actions to address obesity, it is crucial that consumers are empowered to make healthier choices at the checkout rather than being bombarded with junk food marketing or encouraged to upgrade to a larger drink or meal than the one originally ordered. 

Conservative MP and Chair of the APPG on Obesity, Maggie Throup said a balance needed to be struck between regulation and public awareness, commenting:

“Yes, business does have a responsibility to protect public health and it is clear that upselling of products such as cut-price chocolate with a newspaper is adding to the obesity epidemic that we see in Britain today.

“However, we as individuals also bare responsibility for our own health and what we are putting into our bodies.

“Sadly, there is still a lack of public awareness about calorific intake and just how much seemingly small increments such as going large on a latte can add up to over the course of time.

“This is where I believe both business and Government have a duty to improve education on this issue.” 

Jenny Caven, Slimming World Head of External Affairs, said: “It may seem that having a little extra or a larger bar of chocolate or bigger bag of crisps here and there won’t do much harm. The reality is that it all adds up – especially if you aren’t aware that many of these extra calories do little to satisfy your appetite or fill you up. This report shows that upselling is a real problem that is affecting people’s weight, health and confidence – as well as their wallets. And young people are more adversely affected than most.”

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, RSPH said: “Obesity is the public health challenge of our generation and if not addressed urgently could tip over the point of no return. Incentivising businesses to help keep their customers healthy by offering reduced business rates could be a positive step to help reduce the burden placed on our health care system by obesity-related illness. It also gives businesses the opportunity to step up to the plate and take their fair share of responsibility for the public’s health and wellbeing.

“Almost everyone can relate to the feeling of being pressured into buying extra calories through upselling. Our latest report shows the extent to which these extra calories can really add up, often without us noticing. We hope that through this work the public can become more aware of how businesses target them with upselling and help people to maintain a healthy weight.”