The Heath Star Rating (HSR) Scheme has recently undergone a comprehensive 5-year review to assess whether it is achieving what it set out to do, which was to enable consumers to make healthier food choices. Feedback is being compiled on 10 proposed recommendations to strengthen the scheme. Details can be found here.
Since its introduction in 2014, the HSR Scheme has sparked quite a bit of controversy from food manufacturers, consumer groups and public health advocates. One of the main criticisms has been a lack of alignment with the Dietary Guidelines. This was a major focus of the review. If the proposed recommendations are accepted, we can expect to see the following changes:
- All fruit and vegetable products (fresh, frozen, canned) without added fat, sugar and salt will automatically qualify for a HSR of 5.
- Healthy vegetable oils such as avocado, peanut, sunflower and olive oil will qualify for higher HSR ratings. At present, olive oil gets a 3-star rating because of its saturated fat content; this will increase to 4-stars.
- Sugar and salt will be penalised more heavily which will lower the ratings of certain breakfast cereals and snack bars.
- Fruit and vegetable juices which now qualify for 5 stars despite high sugar and energy contents will receive much lower ratings under the proposal.
What do we make of this?
In general, we like the HSR Scheme for its simplicity – it’s an easy way for consumers to select healthier products in a category. We agree with the reviewer’s conclusion that the HSR Scheme has the potential to have a significant impact on public health with widespread use.
There is however more to nutrition than kilojoules, salt, sugar and saturated fat that isn’t reflected in HSR ratings. Micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants that are naturally present in whole, minimally processed foods aren’t taken into consideration, so there’s still potential for highly processed food (with little inherent nutritional value) to be manipulated to achieve a high rating. Our advice to businesses wanting to differentiate themselves from this is to promote the nutrients that are naturally present in their food products.
What is the HSR Scheme?
Voluntary front-of-pack labelling scheme in Australia and New Zealand that rates the overall nutritional profile of a packaged food, giving it a rating from 0.5 stars to 5 stars. Broadly speaking, the more the stars, the healthier the product.