Public 'tricked' into buying unhealthy food

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The UK’s obesity crisis is being fuelled by businesses pushing unhealthy food and larger portions on shoppers, according to health experts.

The Royal Society for Public Health warned consumers were being tricked by a marketing ploy known as upselling.

The tactic involves shops, cafes and restaurants encouraging customers to upgrade to larger meals and drinks or adding high-calorie toppings and sides.

A poll suggested eight in 10 people experienced it every week.

The most common upsells to be taken included larger coffees, bigger meals, sweets and chocolates and extra sides such as onion rings and chips.

Royal Society for Public Health chief executive Shirley Cramer said the industry was pressuring the public into buying extra calories, which then added up “without us noticing”.

She said businesses needed to stop training staff to upsell high-calorie food and instead focus on healthy alternatives.

And she suggested the government could reward industry with reduced business rates for doing so.

  • 35% added sides like chips to meal

  • 34% bought a larger coffee

  • 17,000 extra calories on average over a year


The findings were drawn from a poll of more than 2,000 UK adults by the RSPH and Slimming World.

Those who had experienced upsells had been targeted more than twice a week on average, with younger people the most susceptible.

The most common place for it to happen was restaurants, followed by fast-food outlets, supermarkets, coffee shops and pubs and bars.

The research showed many of the upsells were unhealthy options, with the average person who fell victim to the technique consuming an average of 17,000 extra calories a year, enough to gain an extra 5lbs (2.3kg) over 12 months.

Liam Smith, 25, from West Yorkshire, said: “Being able to ‘go large’ on a meal for 30p extra was always a no-brainer for me, as was a few pence more for a large cup of hot chocolate or paying £1 more to turn a single burger into a double.

“Afterwards, I’d wish I hadn’t done it though – I can only describe it as a major feeling of guilt.”

The top 10 places for upselling

  1. Restaurants
  2. Fast-food outlets
  3. Supermarkets
  4. Coffee shops
  5. Pubs and bars
  6. Cinemas
  7. Planes and airports
  8. Petrol stations
  9. Newsagents
  10. Railway stations

The practice occurs at the point-of-sale and is not at the customer’s request.

Examples include a coffee shop barista asking if you would like a large rather than a regular-sized coffee or if you want whipped cream added.

Another popular one is a fast-food worker asking if you would like to make a meal large for only a minimal cost.

Some bar workers are also trained to nudge people towards buying a double rather than a single measure.

The researchers talked to people who had worked in the industry who told them it was often part of their training and inductions and in some places targets were set for upselling.

One fast-food restaurant worker said: “I’ve been trained so that if a customer asks for a product, I always ask if they’d like to make that a meal.”

The BBC contacted industry groups including the British Retail Consortium and British Hospitality Association, but none could provide a comment.

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BBC News – Health

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