New food ratings system to help consumers make healthier choices

Jane Martin – Executive Manager, Obesity Policy Coalition

Published 23 September 2013

Jane Martin – Obesity Policy Coalition

From July next year a new clear and easy-to-read ratings system will be introduced to the front of food packaging to empower consumers to make healthier choices. This could also act as a tool for health professionals to advise patients around particular nutrients in food that they should consider when shopping.

The Health Star Ratings system was announced in June by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation – a body comprising state and federal government representatives. This has been developed by industry, consumer and public health groups, including the Obesity Policy Coalition of which Cancer Council Victoria is a partner.

Packaged foods will be rated from half to five stars based on their nutritional value. It’s similar to how televisions and whitegoods are labelled for their energy efficiency: the more stars the better. There will also be icons detailing energy, saturated fat, sodium and sugars per hundred grams, as well as that for a single positive nutrient, like calcium or fibre. This information can be used to encourage people with hypertension to search out low salt products, or for those with a heart condition to look for lower fat or sugar products in particular.

Proposed star rating label

Proposed star rating label

The star ratings system has been a long time in the making, kicking off with a Commonwealth Government instigated review of labelling law and policy by an independent committee in 2009. While many of the recommendations were rejected, the call for the development of an interpretive front of pack labelling scheme was adopted. This resulted in the formulation of a Project Committee in 2011 consisting of public health groups, consumer and industry interests. Finally, 18 months later and after long negotiations and consumer research, the Health Star Ratings system has come about.

The next step will be implementation. Over the next year, the system will be further developed, and the following year will voluntarily roll out the labelling. If, after July 2015, industry has failed to apply the ratings system in a widespread and consistent manner, legislative measures will be put in place to mandate the labelling.

The Health Star Ratings System is a positive step for obesity prevention, assisting consumers to make healthier decisions, and helping GPs to advise patients on what nutritional information to look out for.

The Health Star Ratings System is a positive step for obesity prevention, assisting consumers to make healthier decisions, and helping GPs to advise patients on what nutritional information to look out for.