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Diabetes Queensland dietitians’ submission on the Health Star Rating review

HSR

Health Star Ratings are a quick and easy way to compare the nutritional profile of packaged foods. These are the voluntary front-of-pack labels, designed to help people make healthier choices

 

The current health-star ratings system is being reviewed to consider whether it could be improved.

 

Diabetes Queensland dietitians were asked by Diabetes Australia to submit their views on the Australian Health Star Rating (HSR).

 

Our dietitians' submission focused on three issues they believe will improve the HSR system.

 

  1. Apply an individual colour to each of the six categories to highlight to consumers that the system is designed to compare foods within a given category, not foods between categories.

    For example, all fruit and vegetables may display a health star rating (HSR) with a green background while dairy products have a blue background and discretionary items have a red background.
    Consumers may currently compare a muesli bar and yoghurt both with 3.5 star rating and assume they have the same nutrition profile.

    This would need to be accompanied by a marketing campaign to inform consumers they can only compare products with the same colour background on the HSR label.
  2. Review manufacturer's 'as prepared' rule and implement an 'as sold' rule

    Products are not always prepared according to manufacturer's suggestions.

    For example, formulated supplementary food like Milo could be mixed with low-fat or full cream milk, water, sprinkled on ice cream or eaten out of the tin.

    Most manufacturers choose to display only the most nutritious option in the 'serving suggestion', which may inflate the overall rating.
  3. HSR on tinned/canned vegetables and fruits, and fresh and deli meats
    On top of the fresh and frozen vegetables/fruits with no additives being suggested to have the HSR, we believe tinned vegetables and fruit, fresh and deli meat should also be required to have a HSR.

    Tinned vegetables labeled as 'no added salt' often have added sugar, which needs to be reflected in the HSR. Applying the HSR to tinned fruit will also help highlight products that have added sugar/syrup compared to fruit in its juice.

    Deli meats are often heavily processed and high in added salt, however, consumers often perceive such choice are equivalent to the fresh meat.

 

Dale Cooke small border"It's not a perfect system but it is helpful," says Diabetes Queensland dietitian, Dale Cooke on the current HSR system.

 

"We need to use it as a tool. But always remember the less processed a food is, it is always going to be better," she says.

 

The findings of the review will be provided to the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in mid-2019.

 

Meanwhile, Professor Bruce Neal from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney has reviewed more than 34,000 packaged foods with health-star ratings.

And found that seven out of 10 packaged foods contain added sugar that is not clearly identified by nutrition labels.

 

His findings:

  • 70 per cent of packaged foods contain added sugar not identified by nutrition labels
  • Food manufacturers are only required to list total sugar, including natural and processed
  • Consumers must read "complex product ingredient lists" to identify added sugar

 

Read more about the study 

 

In the US, labels on packaged foods have been amended to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.

 

From 2018, US food manufacturers will have to include both total and added sugars on food labels.

 

Professor Neal said Australia should follow suit.

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