It’s no secret that fast food restaurants want to sell more food to you. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen a huge increase the the caloric volume of fast food meals, especially in regards to the “supersize” options available. These options are not only available, they are actively pushed on consumers to drive more sales. This issue is not too frequently discussed in the U.S. because we view these selling practices as a perfectly legitimate part of running a business. In the U.K., the practice of up-selling higher calorie meals is viewed quite differently.
A recent survey conducted in the U.K. by the Royal Society for Public Health found that the practice of up-selling in restaurants is a major factor in their increasing obesity rates. 78% of respondents in the study reported having been asked or “up-sold” more food in a restaurant at least once per week. These findings indicate that the practice of up-selling is not only alive and well, it’s the standard for restaurants across the U.K.
What makes this practice problematic, according to the researchers, is that when a person buys into the larger portions, they will consume an average of 55% more calories. Such an increase in calories adds up. The study authors concluded that those who buy the larger portions could gain upwards of eleven extra pounds of body fat each year.
“Up-selling,” says the report, “is the act of persuading a customer to buy something additional or more expensive. The term is a relatively new concept that has only been widely used since mass-marketing was introduced during the 1980s. Studies have shown that when people are presented with larger portion sizes, they consume more and increase their calorie intake.”
So why the ho-hum over the practice of up-selling? Isn’t it the consumer’s responsibility to refuse such offers to keep themselves healthy? Many will argue yes, but the study authors have other ideas in mind to help limit the effects of “supersizing” meals.
“Obesity is the public health challenge of our generation and if not addressed urgently could tip over the point of no return,” said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH. “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 up-selling. 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 up-selling and help people to maintain a healthy weight.”
The solution, as proposed by the study authors, is two-fold: it is the responsibility of restaurants to keep their customers healthy, and it is the responsibility of the consumer to become aware of up-selling practices that may affect their weight and their health.
The takeaway of the study is that restaurants ubiquitously up-sell larger portions, and they are quite effective at doing so. We as consumers need to be aware of these practices and how they impact our overall health (with weight gain) if we are not careful. It is important to know when to say “no” and to be vigilant when eating out at a restaurant. While the U.S. is not at all likely to hold restaurants to account, we as consumers can hold ourselves to account and abstain from foods that we know will negatively affect our health.