The new Health Star Ratings are here… and this is what we think of them

By Shayl Prisk |

health star ratings

These damn Health Star Ratings – they’ve been causing controversy in Australia for years now. And indeed around the world.

But finally – and with little fanfare – they’re now rolling out on products across the country. Whether we like it or not, they form the new food labelling system that assigns anything from half a star to a five-star rating to all packaged foods. It will be displayed on the front of packets in big red stars, five stars denoting a great, healthy choice in its category.

They’re meant to make choosing healthy food easier. But do they? You can add up the healthy ticks below (just to play on another suspect rating system) and make up your own mind.

✔ The stars are featured on the front of the pack. As Melbourne-based dietitian Kara Landau points out, “Front of pack makes it front of mind.” Having health ratings that are easy to spot ingrain the practice of comparing food in our shopping routine.

✔ More transparency = more Big Food accountability. These measures can mean that manufacturers are forced to confront issues of health and nutrition when creating and marketing their products.

✘ Margarine gets 5 stars. We’re serious! This is because the system is doggedly sticking to its low-fat guns. We’ll talk more about that in a second.

✘ Likewise olive oil only qualifies for three and a half stars. Again – this is nuts.

✘ And yet Nestle Soleil Peach and Mango Yoghurt – packed with aspartame – is currently scoring a five, while natural full fat Greek yoghurt only scores one. Every bit of new science is showing the old “fat makes you fat” and “reduced-fat is better” mantras are way off. So why are these ratings not reflecting this new information?

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Here’s what our friend and nutrition crusader David Gillespie had to say:

“The Star system has missed a golden opportunity to improve labelling. Unlike the Heart Foundation Tick, the system does pay some regard to sugar. Unfortunately though, it is so perverted by an obsession with saturated fat and salt that it ends up awarding butter half a star and margarine 5 stars. Any system that can tell a consumer that a tub of highly processed seed oil is a much healthier choice than butter is one that has been wholly debased by the processed food industry and, as a result, should not be trusted.”

Other things to consider:

Portion sizing works great in print but it also depends on the consumer. Kara Landau picks up on this problem: “The front-of-pack data makes it simple to compare foods at the 100 gram or millilitre level, but remember you aren’t always likely to eat that much (e.g. pistachios) or that little (e.g. a smoothie).”

Five stars doesn’t mean it’s actually a healthy choice. It can just mean it’s the best of its kind in its category. And remember we’re talking about packaged foods… at the end of the day the best option is always going to be the real stuff in the produce section, and you don’t need ticks or stars to tell you that.

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So that’s our rundown…but you should make up your own mind. Let us know if we missed anything below:

Please be respectful of other participants in the conversation. We'd love you to keep your comments respectful, friendly and relevant. Differences of opinion are welcome, but trolling and abuse of other commentators and the IQS editorial team is not and will result in blacklisting.

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