The introduction of a front-of-pack (FOP) labelling system has endeavoured to educate the consumer about important nutritional information. The Health Star Rating (HSR) system is one such FOP labelling scheme. The HSR system uses an algorithm displaying a certain number of stars based on the total kilojoules, saturated fat, sugars, sodium, fibre, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes in the product. The higher the star rating, the higher the nutrient value of the product. Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council. Health Star Rating System Style Guide. Australia: AHMAC; 30 June 2014
The steps to determine the HSR category of the food are fairly involved. The product is first determined as dairy or non-dairy, then base-line points are calculated for various constituents such as fat and sugar. Next, modifying points are calculated for fruit, vegetable, nut and legume components, with a final score calculated and a rating applied to that value. Phew! Should it really be that complex?
For the consumer, things are a little simpler. More stars means better for you. What a relief! Consumers will begin to see the star system appear on more and more products throughout the year. It will appear simply as the star rating with a value, or the star rating with a value plus additional nutrient information. The new labelling style is advantageous in that consumers can quickly get an indication of which product is a better option. Similar to buying a washing machine or a fridge, you look at the star rating for it’s efficiency. However, the fact that the scheme is voluntary poses problems. That’s right, the HSR is a voluntary scheme to be rolled out over the next five years. Due to this, not all products will display the star. This may be confusing and misleading for consumers. Comparing two breakfast cereals for example, one with the star scheme and one without, may lead consumers to believe that the star labelled product is superior.
Another potential source of confusion for consumers: the system is designed to be used for comparison between similar products. One must wonder if this is made clear enough. With the avalanche of conflicting nutrition information, consumers already feel frustrated. Looking at a loaf of bread high in fibre with 4 stars, and looking at a jar of peanut butter high in fat with 5 stars may be misleading. How will consumers know what to focus on? This may mean the continuation of demonising single nutrients such as fat and sugar, creating the opposite of what we as health professionals stand for.
Overall, the introduction of the HSR system in Australia is a step in the right direction, despite potential downfalls. Making the system voluntary means that those manufacturers who fear loss of revenue due to the poor nutrient value of their product have an easy escape route. Let’s face it: you’re unlikely to see Cadbury’s putting 1/2 a star on a block of fruit and nut. The research shows that nutrition labelling is an important factor in consumer choice and can have a strong influence on purchasing behaviour. Sutherland LA, Kaley LA, Fischer L. Guiding Stars: the effect of a nutrition navigation program on consumer purchases at the supermarket. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;91:1090S-4S Hence, consumers deserve to know in simple and easy to understand language what is a healthy option and what isn’t. The HSR offers such a solution, but it’s principles need to be made clear and transparent.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council. Health Star Rating System Style Guide. Australia: AHMAC; 30 June 2014|
|2.||⇪||Sutherland LA, Kaley LA, Fischer L. Guiding Stars: the effect of a nutrition navigation program on consumer purchases at the supermarket. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;91:1090S-4S|