Calls for mandatory Health Star Ratings on food products

Morgan Liotta

12/11/2019 1:29:52 PM

Australia’s largest consumer advocacy group is campaigning for more appropriate labelling to inform healthier choices and avoid confusion.

Woman in supermarket
Australians are confused by inconsistent health ratings when it comes to buying food.

CHOICE, which conducts research and campaigns on behalf of consumers, wants the Health Star Rating system expanded to include more food products.
In a letter to health ministers, CHOICE is advocating for Health Star Ratings to be:

  • made mandatory for all packaged products
  • improved to better align with dietary guidelines
  • further funded for ongoing promotion and monitoring of the ratings.
The proposal outlines the potential of the rating system to empower consumers to make more informed and healthier food choices.
The current system rates foods from half a star to five stars, depending on the amount of ‘healthy’ and ‘risk’ nutrients of which they are comprised.
Recent research from CHOICE included a survey of more than 1000 customers. It found that most are confused by current inconsistencies with Health Star Ratings and disproportionately rely on marketing when stars are absent, leading to unhealthy food choices from ‘misleading images and claims’.
The research also found the presence of Health Star Ratings has a significant impact on peoples’ perceptions of the nutritional value of certain products, with 75% of those using the system trusting it ‘a great deal’.
‘It’s clear to us that Health Star [Ratings] make it far easier for people to pick healthy foods,’ CHOICE food policy expert Linda Przhedetsky said.
The survey reported that two-thirds of people rely on marketing material in the absence of the stars to decide if something is a healthy choice. People were also more likely to find it difficult to rate the healthiness of a product without the stars.
‘Too many food brands still try to trick us into buying their unhealthy products. A compulsory Health Star Rating system will help disrupt the food industry’s tricks,’ Ms Przhedetsky said.
The Health Star Rating system was first introduced in Australia five years ago and recently underwent a formal review to identify whether objectives have been met and areas for improvement. 
A number of changes to improve the accuracy and usability of the system have been put forward, including that health stars appear on all packaged products, that sugary or salty snacks do not receive higher ratings than they deserve, and that the system is free from unwarranted industry influence. 
Health stars are currently displayed on only 30% of packaged foods in Australia, with the review of the system recommending they be displayed on 70% of eligible products by 2023.
Members of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation are set to respond to the review report and the recommendations contained within before the end of 2019.
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