How companies trick us into eating more junk

Supersize me: On average, those who accept an upsell pay 17% more for 55% more calories.

Should “upselling” be banned? Public health is being put at risk by aggressive sales tactics. A report warns that the practice is fuelling an already disastrous obesity epidemic.

“Would you like a side with that?” A seemingly innocent question, but it is part of an alarming trend — with potentially devastating consequences for our health.

Retailers train staff to manipulate customers into buying more junk food; the process is known as “upselling”. The vast majority of upsold food is unhealthy.

A report released yesterday revealed that 78% of customers in the UK experience these tactics every week, leading to 106 upsells per person per year. That‘ is an average of 17,000 extra calories per person, the same as eating 66 big macs.

Shops use many tactics. A waiter told researchers that he has “hourly goals” of large meals to sell. Another worker described how restaurant management have turned upselling into a “team competition”, with prizes for the team that upsell the most.

UK MP Sharon Hodgson has blamed upselling for contributing to the “obesity crisis that we see today.”

In the UK 25% of adults are obese. This rises to a staggering 33% in the USA. Obesity can lead to a range of deadly conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The chief executive of the RSPH, Shirley Cramer, describes it as “the public health challenge of our generation”.

The British government has attempted to tackle obesity by taxing sugary drinks. But some campaigners think that it is time to crack down on upselling.

You are what you eat

“Upselling should be banned,” declare some. This study proves that it is making a catastrophic obesity epidemic even worse. Retailers should respect the health of their customers, rather than squeezing as many pennies out of them as possible.

“Let consumers choose!” say others. Nobody forces them to buy more food. Also, a law against upselling would be impossible to enforce. Upselling is here to stay.

You Decide

  1. Should upselling be made illegal?

Activities

  1. Write a list of all the items of fast food you have eaten over the past week.

Some People Say...

“Let them eat cake.”

Marie Antoinette (supposedly)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A record number of Britons are overweight or obese; obesity can lead to a range of deadly medical conditions; and in America obesity contributes to more than 120,000 deaths per year.
What do we not know?
How far upselling causes obesity. There are many other factors; these include genetics, medical problems, and lifestyle. Nor whether a ban on upselling would have any effect.

Word Watch

Report
Data was drawn from a survey of over 2,000 people, conducted by the RSPH (Royal Society for Public Health).
Big macs
Or 73 Whoppers, depending on your preference of fast food establishments.
Obese
A person is defined as obese if they have a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 points or more. This index is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by their height.
33%
About 20% of US school-aged children (aged 6-19) are obese. The percentage of obese American children has tripled since 1970.
RSPH
Royal Society for Public Health.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.