Make Health Stars work for you
Advertising and marketing spin from multi-billion dollar food companies means that it isn’t always easy to find healthy food choices.
Health stars are that little bit of extra information on your side, which you can use when comparing products to make a healthier choice. Health stars should make things easier but some companies are using the stars to make their unhealthy products look better than they are.
We’re onto food companies’ tricks – here are five changes we need to make the system better.
The Health Star Rating system rates the overall nutritional profile of a
packaged food or beverage – and assigns it a rating from ½ a star to 5
stars on the front of the pack. It provides quick and easy way to
compare similar products at the supermarket.
Health stars rank packaged food and beverage products on a scale
from half a star to five stars, allowing you to make healthier choices at
The rating is based on an algorithm that looks at overall kilojoules;
then saturated fat, sodium and total sugars. Why fat, salt and sugar?
Because eating foods high in these things increases your risk of
chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The calculator then weighs these ‘negative’ aspects against a food
product’s virtues – including its fruit and veg content, potential nuts or
legumes, protein and in some cases, dietary fibre – to come up with
an overall rating.
And it does it all based on a straightforward, standardised
measurement of 100 grams or 100 mL so there’s no sneaky fiddling
with the numbers – like when food companies use miniscule serving
sizes to make their kilojoules or sugar content appear smaller.
The system is independently monitored, while the algorithm behind the
health stars was developed in consultation with Food Standards
Australia New Zealand, alongside other technical and nutrition experts.
As anyone involved in politics and policy knows, progress is rarely
perfect. Especially when taking on a powerful lobby group. Choice, the
Australian Medical Association, the Obesity Policy Coalition and other
health experts decided it was better to work with the industry and
government to get a rating system in place – which we can then
continue to improve and expand – than let the food industry delay
Government monitoring of the system so far finds it’s mostly working
well. Research confirms most people like health stars and want to see
them rolled out across more products. And 1 in 3 people who are
aware of health stars have used them to switch to a healthier product
they wouldn’t normally buy. But health stars can be made better, and
that’s where Choice is calling on government to act.
Today we have a dizzying array of choices, and even among relatively
healthy products it can be overwhelming trying to choose the one
that’s better for us. Add on time pressures, shopping with small
children or other everyday life circumstances and it’s just not good
enough to expect consumers to go it alone, pouring over labels. Enter
the health stars, which give you at-a-glance ratings to compare similar
products side by side on the supermarket shelf.
Designed by government, developed with experts, to operate in the
world we actually live in.
Absolutely, eat those things (and check out the Australian Dietary
Guidelines if you want the most up-to-date, research-backed
But most people buy a lot of other things as well. And we shouldn’t
need hours of spare time to compare labels or a degree in food
science to understand how healthy a product actually is.