'Use Health Star Ratings': Government

24 January 2017
Health Stars on food products are not a new thing, yet many people still don’t understand what they mean.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), poor diets and their related health impacts cost Australia over $5 billion per year, including direct healthcare costs of up to $3 billion.

Whilst the Health Star Rating (HSR) System has been implemented in Australia since 2014, a recent review has shown that most Australians still don’t understand what it means.

In order to combat this, the Coalition Government has recently announced a new national public awareness campaign to promote the front of pack health stars on packaged foods. Not only will it prove informative to many Australians, but it will also help tackle Australia’s obesity epidemic.

The Campaign

By using the HSR System on packaged foods, the government hopes Australians will make more informed decisions about the food they’re consuming.

The aim is to help take the guess work out of shopping, and encourage consumers to make healthier choices when it comes to buying packaged food.

Federal Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie, said considering Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, people must be encouraged to eat a more balanced diet.

“I want to spread the word that our growing rate of obesity is primarily due to poor diet often associated with large intakes of energy dense foods, with high saturated fat, sugar and/or salt content, and low intakes of nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruit and wholegrain cereals,” Dr Gillespie said.

“That is why the Coalition Government is contributing funds towards a new national public awareness campaign.”

Dr Gillespie said when it comes to diet, “fresh is best”.

“If you are eating food that you pull out of the ground or off a tree, is harvested and unprocessed or runs, jumps, swims or flies, it is generally pretty healthy,” he said.

“If you get it out of a shiny silver pack or a cardboard box, it has usually been processed.”

How health star ratings work

The HSR System operates on a half to five star scale to provide an at-a-glance rating of packaged and processed food.

“The Health Stars help you to choose between different products within a category (for example, yogurts with yogurts, cereals with cereals), and not between categories. It doesn’t make sense to compare the two when they were never intended to be of the same nutritional value,” Dr Gillespie said.

Working together

Now, with more than 115 food companies displaying stars on more than 5,500 food products, it is clear that participation is growing rapidly. Part of the campaign is also targeted at encouraging companies to label their products with the HSR, as well as encouraging greater portion control and reformulation.

“This campaign is one part of an overall effort, to prevent the rise in obesity. Diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, are a major cause of death and disability in Australia and their prevalence is steadily increasing,” Dr Gillespie said.

“This is a top priority.”

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