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18 November 2022

Health star ratings – changes not enough to shine

We are calling for the Health Star Rating to be mandatory.

This week, changes to the Health Star Rating (HSR) system come into force. HSRs give consumers ‘at a glance’ information about a packaged food’s overall nutritional value. The ratings range from half a star to five stars, with the more stars the better.

The rating system hasn’t been without controversy, prompting an upgrade to the system after a review at the five-year mark.

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Consumer NZ’s head of communications and campaigns, Gemma Rasmussen, said there have been positive changes to the HSR system, such as automatic five-star ratings for minimally processed fruit and vegetables, and tougher criteria for high-sodium products. However, Consumer is dissatisfied that some of its concerns have not been addressed.

“We’re disappointed health stars remain voluntary,” she said. “Consumer has repeatedly called for the system to be mandatory so consumers can easily compare all products on supermarket shelves.”

Public health groups, such as Health Coalition Aotearoa, also support a mandatory system. HSRs will only become mandatory if stars aren’t on 70% of products by 2025. Rasmussen said this means the industry players can still cherry-pick their ratings and avoid putting stars on less healthy products.

Changes to HSRs mean total sugars are now more heavily penalised. However, added sugars still get a free pass.

“This is not consistent with dietary guidelines to reduce added sugars in the diet,” Rasmussen said. “By not addressing added sugars, consumers may continue to mistrust the HSR system.”

Food Standards Australia New Zealand is reviewing whether added sugars should be listed in the nutrition information panel (NIP). Consumer NZ will be making a submission on this review. If added sugars are included in the NIP, there will be no excuses for health stars not to penalise them too.

New Zealanders and Australians eat too much sugar, with one in two exceeding the World Health Organization’s maximum recommended limit. Excess consumption of added sugars is associated with dental caries, poor dietary quality and excess weight gain. Excess weight can increase a person’s risk of developing diseases such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and many cancers.

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