National report reveals upselling is fuelling the obesity crisis

The report reveals that consumers face more than 100 upsell attempts of unhealthy food and drink each year, leading to a 5 lb annual weight gain

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.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive at Royal Society for Public Health (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.”

The report, Size Matters, which includes a survey of 2055 UK adults, shows 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 and sides to their order or take advantage of special offers on unhealthy food and drink.1

Published by the 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 this could result in an estimated weight gain of 5 lbs (2.3 kg). 1 lb in weight is said to be the equivalent of 3500 calories.2

The report reveals that, in the course of a week, upselling techniques used by businesses resulted in 34% of people buying a larger coffee than intended, 33% upgrading to a large meal in a fast food restaurant, 36% buying chocolate at the till at a newsagents or petrol station and 35% adding chips or onion rings to the side of their pub or restaurant meal.

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 11 lbs (5 kg) over the course of a year.2

The report reveals that businesses often push people towards upsells that customers will perceive as offering greater value for money. People who take an upsell will generally spend around 17% more money but receive 55% more calories.

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.3

The criteria to qualify should include the following:

  • 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 and businesses should not financially incentivise food and drink that is damaging to the public's health when consumed to excess

RSPH and Slimming World also want to empower people to insist that they get what they asked for, using the hashtag #JustThisThanks.


Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead at 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."

As well as calling for measures to reduce the impact of upselling, the report also included a survey of 2018 successful slimmers. While two-thirds said upselling had caused them to gain weight in the past, nine out of 10 were now more empowered to say no, with top tips suggested by Slimming World members including planning what to eat and drink before going out (74%) and being prepared with a healthy snack alternative (55%).

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.

“At Slimming World, members get support and ideas from others who face similar challenges. By working through problems together and celebrating their achievements they build confidence.

“Our members tell us that they feel more empowered to make sure they get what they want and are happy to say ‘just this thanks’, when they are put in a position of being upsold to. Not everyone has that support network though and that’s where responsible businesses could help to make a real difference.”


  1. Survey of a UK representative sample of 2055 adults, conducted by consumer research agency Populus, in August 2017.
  2. British Dietetic Association (2016). Food Fact Sheet – Weight Loss, available at:
  3. Making every contact count (MECC) is an approach to behaviour change that utilises the millions of day to day interactions that organisations and people have with other people to encourage changes in behaviour that have a positive effect on the health and wellbeing of individuals, communities and populations.