Aussies being deceived by dodgy health foods
The current Health Star Rating system may be misleading consumers by giving a ‘health halo’ to popular junk foods, according to new research from Deakin University.
Researchers from Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) found around three quarters of ultra-processed food and more than half of discretionary food products displayed a Health Star Rating of 2.5 stars or more. Many of these foods are promoted to children.
Lead researcher Sarah Dickie Dickie said the results meaningful nutritional advice from Health Star Ratings may not be sio trustworthy, which could threaten to undermine trust in the system.
"The Health Star Rating on the front label of food packaging is the most prominent nutrition policy in Australia," she said.
"The simple message that more stars equals healthier food is widely understood by the public but our research shows the stars don’t always match dietary guidelines and can be confusing to Australians who use the stars as part of their purchasing decision.
"An effective front-of-pack health label should be discouraging junk foods, not promoting them."
The study analysed all new food products displaying the Health Star Rating, and compared it to NOVA – a classification system based on processing levels – and the Australian Dietary Guidelines, to see if they aligned.
Just under three quarters (73 per cent) of ultra-processed food products and more than half (53 per cent) of discretionary food products displayed a Health Star Rating equal to or more than 2.5 stars.
“Ratings as high as 3 or 4 stars on junk foods can easily mislead consumers about the healthiness of packaged foods,” said Ms Dickie.
Some examples of ultra-processed and discretionary food products with health star ratings that don’t reflect their true nutritional value include:
- Atkins Smooth Chocolate Low Carb Protein Shake 5 stars
- Berri Quelch 99% Fruit Juice Icy Tubes 5 stars
- Streets Blue Ribbon Vanilla Bean Reduced Fat Ice Cream 4.5 stars
- Uncle Tobys Milk & Oats Vanilla Flavour Milk Protein Crisps Bar 4.5 stars
- Arnott's Tiny Teddy Oat & Honey Biscuits 4 stars
- SPC Orange Flavoured Jelly with Diced Peaches 4 stars
- Freedom Foods Crunchola Choc Chip Chewy Bars 4 stars
- Tegel Tempura Battered Chicken Nuggets 3.5 stars
- Kellogg's Nutri-Grain To Go Nutri-Grain Flavoured Protein Squeezer 3.5 stars
- Woolworths Buttermilk Pancake Shaker 3 stars
- Uncle Tobys Roll-Ups Passionfruit Flavoured Rolls 3 stars
- Four 'N Twenty Toppers Mac 'N Cheese 3 Stars
"Some of these products may have reduced salt, sugar and fat to obtain a higher rating but they remain ultra- processed junk foods that are not necessary in a healthy diet," said Ms Dickie.
"The algorithm underpinning the Health Star Rating system is based on only a handful of nutrients and doesn’t account for the level of processing or the form of the whole food," Ms Dickie said.
"This discrepancy could lead to mistrust in the system as the symbol may be seen as just another marketing tactic by manufacturers."
Do you trust food ratings?