Health Star Rating explained

Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity globally. One in four Australian children are obese or overweight, and 63 per cent of adults are obese. Sugar, salt and saturated fats are hiding in so many of the foods we consume, we often aren’t aware that our meals are doing us harm.

In 2014, the Australian, state and territory governments worked together to develop the Health Star Rating system, aiming to make healthy decision-making easier for consumers.

You’ve probably seen the little black and white logo of the Health Star Rating on the packaged foods you buy. While we may know intuitively that the more stars the food has the healthier it’s rating, what does it actually mean?

How it works
Most packaged products have a Nutritional Information Panel on the wrapping, a little table that shows what ingredients are in the food. But not many consumers actually read these labels consistently.  

The Health Star Rating system takes the legwork out of this process, helping consumers to quickly and easily compare the nutritional rating of similar packaged food products. It rates products from 0.5 to 5.0 stars. When comparing similar products, the higher the rating the healthier that option is. If a product has a Health Star Rating, you will see it on the front of the packet.

The system compares the amount of ‘positive’ and ‘risk’ nutrients. ‘Risk’ nutrients, including salt, sugar and saturated fats, are those that have been linked to diet-related chronic diseases and obesity.

What you’ll see
There are two ways you are likely to see a product’s Health Star Rating displayed on the packaging. The first will show only the star rating of the food. In addition, the second shows more specific nutritional information.

How to understand the stars
The Health Star Rating Calculator is used by product creators to calculate the nutritional profile of their product. These calculations are based on the kilojoules in the product, and the content of other ingredients such as fibre, protein, vegetables, nuts, legumes, saturated fats, salt and sugar. These calculations are based off a 100ml or 100g measurement of the product, allowing for the quick comparison of similar products.

However, this rating does not take into account the methods of production, food processing or the health effects of other products such as preservatives.

How to understand the other information
You may see other nutritional information listed beside or below the initial Health Star Rating. These will show the amounts of kilojoules, sugar, salt and saturated fat in the product. It may also show one beneficial nutrient such as fibre, protein, a vitamin or mineral. If the food is single serve then these values will be per serve, otherwise they will be listed per 100g or 100ml for food products and drinks.

Why doesn’t this product show a Health Star Rating?
The rating system is voluntary, so it only appears on the packaging of food if the producer wants it to. While there are conversations about making the system compulsory for all packaged foods sold in Australia, it currently means that the system is skewed towards healthy food products, where it is used as a promotional tool and a rating on unhealthy products is avoided.

Not all foods are expected to display a rating. Products such as fresh, unpackaged vegetables and fruit, non-nutritive foods and condiments such as tea and herbs, and single ingredient foods that aren’t meant to be consumed on their own, such as flour, are not expected to display a Health Star Rating. Products such as baby formula, alcohol and foods with medical purposes are excluded from the system.

Do you look at the Health Star Rating on the food and drink you buy? Do they inform the way you shop?

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Written by Liv Gardiner

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