Food ministers urged to reform system to help Australians make informed purchasing decisions
As food ministers meet later this week to discuss Australia’s Health Star Rating system, a new survey has found three in four Australians want the Government to mandate health stars being displayed on the front of all packaged food and drinks.
The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) survey also found that just under two thirds of those surveyed regularly use the Health Star Rating to help them decide which product is healthier when grocery shopping and comparing similar food and drink products.
The Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation is due to meet on Friday 17 July to discuss, among other issues, a new method of calculating health stars. Two calculators are being considered, with the OPC strongly supporting the option which more strongly penalises sugar and salt and is more closely aligned with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
The OPC’s Executive Manager Jane Martin is encouraging Ministers to listen to the Australian public and ensure products high in sugar and sodium have ratings that reflect their true nutritional value.
“The system can only help consumers if it accurately reflects the nutritional content of products, rather than allowing companies to use it as a marketing tool to sneak unhealthier options into people’s trolleys.”
“The current system fails to adequately penalise products higher in sugar and salt, incorrectly rewarding them with a higher rating.”
“We know people are using this system to decide which products to purchase. They should be able to trust the system to penalise foods high in sugar and salt, in line with what is recommended as part of a healthy diet. We need to set better standards for how the food industry markets and sells the food we eat.”
Currently, some products, including cereals high in sugar, are receiving Health Star Ratings as high as four. The OPC supports a proposed calculator which would mean many of these products would have their Health Star Rating reduced.
Kellogg’s Nutrigrain currently boasts a 4 star rating, despite comprising more than a quarter sugar. The new calculator backed by the OPC would see this rating come down to 2.5 stars.
Milo cereal, another popular option for kids, also comprises more than a quarter sugar and receives a 4 star rating. New calculations would bring this down to 3 stars.
Other products that could have their rating reduced under the improved calculator include muesli bars, with many being downgraded by half a star.
The OPC is also calling for the Health Star Rating system to be made mandatory to ensure companies feature the star rating on all products, not just those which receive a high rating. Current coverage only accounts for around 30 per cent of products.
“When companies use the system selectively, rewarding themselves with a higher Health Star Rating for healthier products and not displaying it on others, it can give the whole product range a healthy halo,” Ms Martin said.
“The system needs to be improved and then made mandatory to avoid these tactics by companies trying to mislead consumers.”
 The Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer based at the Cancer Council Victoria, on behalf of the Obesity Policy Coalition conducted a national representative opinion survey of over 2,000 Australian adults in December 2019 about obesity prevention policies including labelling.