The federal government’s Heath Star Rating System (HSRS) has been referred to as flawed and in urgent need of review.
Championed to make packaged food choices simpler, the HSRS was launched three years ago but of late has been receiving criticism suggesting there is a fundamental flaw in the system.
What exactly is the HSRS?
According to the official HSRS website it is: “a front-of-pack labelling system that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ a star to 5 stars. It provides a quick, easy, standard way to compare similar packaged foods. The more stars, the healthier the choice.”
It was designed as a way to make choosing healthy options simple and quick, taking the hassle out of reading nutrition labels, and instead provide a clear visual guide.
Each star rating is calculated using an algorithm developed in consultation with Food Standards Australia New Zealand and is determined by nutrients in food.
It is, however up to manufactures and retailers to calculate and ensure their HSRS labels display the correct information.
Flaws and more
While the system is seen as a way to simplify and standardise choosing between packaged foods, it’s a voluntary system and no company is required by the government or otherwise, to take part and update their packaging in compliance with the system.
Due to this, there is not an equal balance across packaged foods, making for a more biased shopping experience.
Deakin University Professor Mark Lawrence has 30 years experience working as a practitioner and academic in food and nutrition policy.
Mr Lawrence summarised that one of the primary issues with the HSRS is the way the system has been calculated, as reported by News.com.au.
While the HSRS is based on nutrients, Mr Lawrence argued that people eat foods, not nutrients and thus using nutrients to calculate the rating was an inaccurate way to measure health.
“The best evidence available for food, diets and health has been synthesised into the Australian Dietary Guidelines,” he said.
“These Guidelines make recommendations based only on whole foods (like eating more whole fruits, vegetables, cereals, meat and dairy foods and less highly processed junk foods) rather than recommendations based on individual nutrients.”
Speaking to New Daily in 2016 he said the problem is a badly flawed design.
“I think they [companies] should avoid the Health Star Rating scheme until it is fundamentally redesigned,” he said.
The algorithm used to calculate the star rating primarily consists of nutrients but there is no consideration given for the quality of the ingredients or how natural the product is.
“This means we have more foods that become more processed with more ingredients added to help them achieve certain nutrient targets to help them achieve more stars,” said News.com.au.
They also note that there is an absence of nutrition experts on the advisory board that developed and now governs the HSRS.