‘Upselling’ tactics are fuelling our obesity crisis, warn health experts

Businesses are pushing unhealthy food and larger portions on shoppers at the expense of their waistlines, concludes a new study. 

The tactic, known as “upselling”, is designed to encourage customers to upgrade to larger meals and drinks, add high-calorie toppings and sides, and buy discounted “goodies” paraded on the till desk.

And the marketing ploy appears to be working.  According to a study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), and sponsored by Slimming World, 78% of adults experience upselling each week – and one in three of us fall for the bait.

The findings, based on a poll of more than 2,000 adults, show that the average person will be upsold unhealthy food and drink 106 times per year, leading to an increased total consumption of 17,000 calories – the equivalent of 66 Big Macs or almost 122 cans of coke, says The i. According to RSPH, the extra calories consumed amount to an average estimated weight gain of 5lbs over 12 months.

The picture is even bleaker for people aged 18 to 24, who are the most susceptible to upselling. On average, they consume an additional 750 calories per week – 39,000 a year – as a result of the practice, potentially gaining 11bs in a year, the study found.

RSPH boss Shirley Cramer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Size Matters report aims not only to raise awareness of upselling among consumers, but also encourage businesses to upsell healthier alternatives. The report also urges the food and drinks industry not to train staff, or offer them bonuses, to push high-calorie options, and even suggests incentives such as reduced business rates for outlets that come on board.

Some critics argue that it remains an individual’s choice to turn down unhealthy offers peddled by businesses. But Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said that given the prevalence of obesity in the UK, “the last thing people need is to be coaxed into consuming more calories”.

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