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Healthy choices harder to find

A study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that fewer than half of all packaged foods sold in New Zealand and Australia in 2012 met nutritional criteria to carry health claims and aren’t a healthy choice.

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The study, led by the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland, rated 23,596 packaged foods according to nutrient profiling criteria set by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It found 41 percent of foods in New Zealand met the criteria and 47 percent in Australia.

Cliona Ni Mhurchu, professor of public health nutrition at the University of Auckland, said the performance of staple foods shocked them the most. “Less than one-third of dairy, meat and meat products, and bread and bakery products were eligible to carry health claims.” Not surprisingly, snack foods (12 percent) and confectionery (6 percent) didn’t rate well.

We’re not shocked by some of the findings. When we last surveyed children’s cereals we found two-thirds had more than our maximum criteria for sugar and in our snack bar survey only nine out of 35 earned three stars or more when we calculated their health star rating.

The health star rating system is a voluntary front-of-pack label designed to give “at-a-glance” nutritional information about a packaged food. The ratings range from half a star to five stars – the more stars the better. The system takes into account “positive” nutrients (such as fibre and protein) and “negative” nutrients (such as saturated fat and sodium).

Professor Ni Mhurchu urges New Zealand companies to work harder to implement the health star rating system.

We support the rating system. However, to date there hasn’t been widespread uptake. If that doesn’t change, we believe labelling needs to be mandatory to help consumers make healthier food choices.

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