National report reveals ‘upselling’ is fuelling the obesity crisis

Report reveals we face more than 100 attempts to upsell us unhealthy food and drink each year, leading to a 5lb annual weight gain

  • In the course of a week verbal ‘upselling’ leads one in three people to buy a larger coffee than intended, upgrade to a large meal in a fast food outlet and buy chocolate at the till in petrol stations and newsagents

  • Drip-drip effect of being upsold to an average of 106 times per year leads us to consume 17,000 extra calories, potentially gaining 5lbs (2.3kg) over 12 months

  • Young people aged 18-24 are the most likely to experience upselling, with the research showing they consume 750 extra calories per week as a result, potentially gaining 11lbs (5kg) in a year

  • Experts from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Slimming World are calling for businesses not to train staff to upsell unhealthy, high-calorie food and drink and to pledge to only upsell healthy food and drink

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, ‘Size Matters’, which includes a survey of 2,055 UK adults*, 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 (2.3kg)**.

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

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. 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.

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


Jenny Caven, Head of External Affairs
"This report shows that upselling is a real problem that is affecting people’s weight, health and confidence – as well as their wallets."
Jenny Caven, Head of External Affairs

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.”

Commenting on the report findings, 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 2,018 successful slimmers. While two-thirds said that 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.”

Izzie Kennedy, who weighed 20st 11lbs before losing nearly half her body weight, believes upselling helped to fuel her unhealthy relationship with food when she was at her heaviest.

The 18-year-old, from Bexhill on Sea, says she had so little confidence in her own ability to resist upselling that she sometimes used to ask others to order for her.

Izzie, who was named Slimming World’s Young Slimmer of the Year 2017 in July, says: “Fast food restaurants are the places I most associate with upselling, as well as when eating out with family or friends at chain restaurants. Before I started losing weight I’d say I probably experienced it in some form most times I ate out – at fast food restaurants it tended to be upgrading the size of a milkshake or ice cream, and at chain restaurants I definitely recall adding extra toppings to burgers or ordering more sides than I had originally intended.

“It was probably effective about 90% of the time and it used to make me feel quite weak and out of control – I even took to asking other people to order for me at one point. That feeling of being out of control used to be paired with guilt, which would most likely prompt comfort eating. So I’d say it definitely didn’t help me when it came to having a healthy, guilt-free relationship with food.”

Since joining Slimming World in October 2014 and losing 9st 8lbs, Izzie says she visits fast food restaurants less frequently and enjoys cooking from scratch – one of her favourites is Slimming World-style BBQ pulled pork. She also feels more in control when eating out elsewhere: “I usually look at the menu beforehand so have an idea of what I will choose, which I find helps in resisting the offer of extras or sizes.” Discussing menus with other Slimming World members at my weekly group also helps me to make good choices as we’ll recommend things we’ve enjoyed while staying on track.”

Izzie’s top tips to avoid upselling:

  • Try and have a look at a menu online before eating out. If you have an idea of what you want to eat, you may find it easier to resist adding extras.
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘no thank you’, there’s no need to feel bad for not accepting the offer of something additional – the person serving you won’t have lost out on anything!

You can read Izzie’s full story at www.slimmingworld.co.uk here.


* Survey of a UK representative sample of 2,055 adults, conducted by consumer research agency Populus, in August 2017.

** 1lb in weight is said to be the equivalent of 3,500 calories.References: British Dietetic Association (2016). Food Fact Sheet – Weight Loss, available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Want2LoseWeight.pdfSmith, T. Lin, B-H. Lee, J-Y. United States Department of Agriculture. 2010. Taxing caloric sweetened beverages: Potential effects on beverage consumption, calorie intake and obesity. Available from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=44734

*** 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.

Notes to Editors

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH)

  • The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is an independent health education charity, dedicated to protecting and promoting the public’s health and wellbeing;
  • We are the world’s longest-established public health body with over 6000 members drawn from the public health community both in the UK and internationally;
  • Our operations include an Ofqual recognised awarding organisation, a training and development arm, and health and wellbeing accreditation.
  • We also produce a wide-variety of public health conferences; our publishing division includes the internationally renowned journal Public Health; and we are developing policy and campaigns to promote better health and wellbeing.
  • For more information, visit www.rsph.org.uk or follow us on Twitter: @R_S_P_H

About Slimming World

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. There are now more than 16,000 weekly groups supporting 900,000 members across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Groups are run by a network of 4,500 community-based Slimming World Consultants, who receive specific training in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as sophisticated behaviour-change techniques. Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of satiety and energy density. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. The principles behind Slimming World’s philosophy are based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by overweight people and recognition that those who struggle with weight carry a double burden, the weight itself and a burden of guilt and shame about their weight. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating behaviour change in a warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.