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How food delivery apps might be tricking us into over-ordering

Headshot of Kimberley Neve
by Kimberley Neve | Analysis

2 October 2023

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Mobile phone with food delivery app on screen

You can’t have missed the food delivery mopeds zipping around our streets. Since the pandemic, use of food delivery apps has increased exponentially and is set to continue; the number of users is estimated to reach 55 million by 2027.i  

This could have a serious impact on obesity rates in the UK, as ‘out of home’ meals have approximately 21% more calories than meals cooked at home.ii So, if we’re using them more instead of home-cooked meals, we’re probably eating more calories overall. 

Wondering what that has to do with cancer? Well, overweight and obesity are the second biggest cause of cancer (after smoking), so here at Cancer Research UK, we’re interested in understanding more about the link between food delivery apps and obesity. 

To find out more about the food delivery app sector – how it works, who uses the apps the most and the ways they influence what you buy – we commissioned the Behavioural Insights Team to do some research for us. Here are some of the highlights…  

Did you know?

  • Food on delivery apps tends to be more energy dense and less nutritious. The average content of meals is between 1125-1820 kcal per meal. To compare, national guidance for adults recommends around 600kcal each for lunch and dinner , so that’s 2-3x higher!iii 
  • Eating takeaway food and using food delivery apps are associated with overweight and obesity. Evidence from the US over a 15-year period suggested that people who use delivery apps frequently are more likely to have a poorer diet overall and a higher Body Mass Index (BMI).iv Similarly, research using the UK Biobank data showed that people who reported having more takeaways or delivery meals were more likely to have a higher BMI.v 

Who’s using them most? 

  • The use of food delivery apps is more common among those who are on lower and middle-incomes and young adults between 25-34 years old. 
  • People are also more likely to use food delivery apps when they can order at work and pay through expenses.  
  • The number of food outlets people can order from on online food delivery platforms was 50% greater in the most deprived postcode districts in England, compared to the least deprived.​ This reflects the fact that unhealthy food is more easily available in more deprived areas, and healthier food can be harder to 
  • We’re not sure yet whether the differences in use by age group are due to specific age differences, or generational differences. For example, will the 25-34 year-old group always be the age group that uses them most, or will people in this age group continue to use them as they get older, with younger age groups using them a lot too?   
Food delivery person at a front door with boxes of food

Tricks the apps use to get you to buy more 

In true business style, the apps are designed in such a way that you spend as much money as possible – and you probably haven’t thought twice about it. Here’s how they’re doing it: 

  1. Volume promotion​s – offering discounts or special deals to you if you spend a certain amount of money on the app. 
  2. Frequency incentives​ – offers that encourage you to return for multiple orders within a short period of time​. 
  3. Price discounts​ – these tend to work on two levels:​
    a) to attract you to the app in the first place, by offering a discount code or voucher for the first order, providing free delivery on the first order, or offering a limited-time promotion for new users;
    b) to influence how you behave while using the app, such as offering discounts on specific restaurants or foods to change what you buy.
  4. Positioning ​- promoting specific restaurants or food categories in prominent positions on the platform to attract your attention (e.g., in a “featured” section).​ 
  5. Friction – making it more difficult to be healthy, for example making it difficult for you to inform your food choices through calorie labels. 

If you use food delivery apps, have a think about what’s promoted, and what you see most. Bet it’s not some great salads! Unfortunately, we know from previous research that promotions and incentives are disproportionately applied to unhealthy options.vii For some, that’s fine – they’re using the app for a one-off treat. However, for others, it often means buying more than originally intended.  

Person holding a phone looking at a food delivery app

This also ties in with promotions on unhealthy food and drink in shops – we know they can actually increase how much you spend overall. I repeat: those ‘bargains’ often result in you spending more than you intended, not saving you money! 

Tips when using food delivery apps 

So, what can you do? If you’re using an app to order food, keep the following tips in mind to try to shift towards a healthier order (and likely spend less money!) 

  1. Turn off notifications/ unsubscribe from their emails and texts to avoid temptation of offers when you weren’t planning on ordering. 
  2. Try not to order when you’re already hungry! 
  3. Consider if saving on delivery is really worth the extra money to make it up to the minimum amount. Alternatively, you can add a side or starter, but choose something that will be a good snack or lunch the next day (and make sure you put it aside when the delivery comes!) 
  4. Look into the nutrition details – you may need to add some calorie totals together for different parts of a meal (like sides and sauces) to get the real amount for the whole meal. 
  5. Know you’re being encouraged to buy as much as possible! Having this awareness can help question whether you go for deals because they’re what you want, or because the deals make it seem like a good idea. Remember, they usually mean you end up spending more money overall. 

All about balance 

Of course, getting a takeaway delivered every so often isn’t going to increase your risk of getting cancer if you’re mostly eating a healthy balanced diet overall. But by knowing how food delivery apps try to make us order more food than we really need, we can make more informed choices when using them.  

Overweight and obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK, so keeping a healthy weight cuts your risk of cancer and other serious diseases. 

We know it can be difficult to keep a healthy weight. Lots of things impact our weight, and the world we live in affects how healthy we are. But there are changes we can make to be healthier. 

That’s why, along with British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK, we have partnered with Tesco with the aim of ‘helping you live healthier’. You can read more about our Trolley Trends research, which explores attitudes and behaviours around healthy eating and food shopping, on our website. 

i Curry D. (2021) Food Delivery App Revenue and Usage Statistics. Available from: 

ii Food Standard Scotland. (2019) Diet And Nutrition: Recommendations For An Out Of Home Strategy For Scotland. Available at:  

iii Public Health England. (2018). Plans to cut excess calorie consumption unveiled. Available at: 

iv Pereira, M. A., Kartashov, A. I., Ebbeling, C. B., Van Horn, L., Slattery, M. L., Jacobs, D. R., & Ludwig, D. S. (2005). Fast-food habits, weight gain, and insulin resistance (the CARDIA study): 15-year prospective analysis. The lancet, 365(9453), 36-42. 

v Albalawi, A. A., Hambly, C., & Speakman, J. R. (2022). Consumption of takeaway and delivery meals is associated with increased BMI and percent fat among UK Biobank participants. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 116(1), 173-188. 

vi Keeble, M., Adams, J., Bishop, T. R., & Burgoine, T. (2021). Socioeconomic inequalities in food outlet access through an online food delivery service in England: A cross-sectional descriptive analysis. Applied Geography, 133, 102498. 

vii DHSC. (2021). Consultation outcome: Restricting promotions of products high in fat, sugar and salt by location and by price: government response to public consultation. Available at: