Consumers persuaded to take extra 17,000 calories per year

Fast food chains, cinemas and even pubs are fuelling the obesity crisis through 'up-selling' tactics on unhealthy food and drink, according to a report.

Fast food chains fuelling obesity crisis, report claims.

Over the course of a week, verbal up-selling leads one in three people to buy a larger coffee than they intended, upgrade to a large meal in a fast food outlet and buy chocolate at the till in petrol stations and newsagents, a survey of more than 2,000 UK adults found.

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The average consumer faces more than 100 attempts by retailers to up-sell unhealthy food and drink each year. Customers persuaded to change their mind are consuming an average 17,000 extra calories a year as a result – the equivalent of 66 Big Macs or 122 cans of coke – and potentially gain 2.3kg, the report calculated. Cafes and petrol stations are also among the groups singled out in the Size Matters report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Slimming World. Young people aged 18 to 24 are the most likely to experience up-selling, with the study finding that they consume an extra 750 calories a week as a result, potentially gaining 5kg in a year.

The RSPH and Slimming World are calling on businesses to pledge to only up-sell healthy food and drink. They have also urged businesses not to link staff pay to the up-selling of junk food, and have introduced #JustThisThanks to encourage consumers to insist on buying only what they initially asked for. RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: “Obesity is the public health challenge of our generation and if not addressed urgently could tip over the point of no return. We hope that through this work the public can become more aware of how businesses target them with up-selling and help people to maintain a healthy weight.”

Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “It’s all too easy to eat more than we need when we are encouraged to buy larger sizes, add unhealthy extras or take advantage of special offers when it comes to unhealthy food and drink.

“There is clear evidence that marketing techniques persuade us to eat and drink more of the wrong types of food and this is driving the obesity epidemic. The food industry can play a vital role by helping to make healthier choices the easy choice and creating a healthier food environment for us all.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “The last thing people need is to be coaxed into consuming more calories – people on average consume 200 to 300 calories too many a day, so we need the opposite. Up-selling is bad for our waistlines and bad for our health, and we are pleased to see action discouraging these practices.”