Poor uptake makes mockery of Health Star Ratings system

by | May 7, 2024 | News

The voluntary Health Star Rating (HSR) system must urgently be made mandatory to ensure New Zealanders can make easy, healthy choices at the supermarket, according to Health Coalition Aotearoa.
Just released analysis by University of Auckland researchers found 30.4 per cent of products carried a HSR in mid-2023. By 2019, 25 per cent of products displayed a HSR, showing there has been very little progress in the past five years. In Australia, 36 per cent of products displayed an HSR in 2023.
New Zealand faces serious health consequences from unhealthy food, with diet and excess body weight responsible for 18 per cent of premature death and disability. Despite this, the HSR – one measure to help guide consumers towards healthy products – is being undermined by poor uptake, HCA food policy expert panel co-chair (and one of the authors of the report) Dr Sally Mackay said.
“Kiwis are bombarded with promotion of unhealthy food and drinks through easy access, and aggressive marketing and advertising. The HSR is supposed to give consumers easy-to-acces information about the products they buy. But when industry fail to use it consistently and we are left with two thirds of all products without an HSR, it makes a mockery of the whole system.”
Following a 2019 review, the Australian and New Zealand Governments set targets to encourage greater uptake of the system by industry. This included an uptake goal of 50 per cent of products displaying a HSR by November, 2023, and 70 per cent by the end of 2025.
Research shows front of pack labelling can encourage industry to make their products healthier, but this reformulation will be limited while uptake remains so low, Mackay says.
A mandatory HSR system is particularly important for people who are on tight budgets, who are time poor and don’t have the nutritional knowledge to interpret the nutrition labels, HCA Food Policy Expert Panel member and dietitian Mafi Funaki-Tahifote said.
“It means there would be an equitable opportunity for people to choose healthy options regardless of affordability, regardless of having the knowledge to read nutrition labels, and regardless of having the time to spend at the supermarket.”
Making the HSR mandatory is the bare minimum needed to combat diet-related poor health outcomes. HCA food policy experts say warning labels for foods with poor nutritional status, that are high in fat, sugar and salt should be implemented as well.
“There is now significant evidence that warning labels on food and beverages, alongside restrictions on marketing of unhealthy food to children and taxes on high sugar products, have changed consumer behaviour towards healthier purchases,” Mackay said.
Nutrition warning labels are already used in more than10 countries and studies from Chile, where they were first adopted, show a reduction in purchases of foods carrying them.
Food labelling systems will never, alone, address our significant diet-related disease and high levels of food insecurity in Aotearoa which is why HCA is calling for a national food and nutrition strategy to be developed urgently.

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