Health Star rating system upgraded to be tougher on sugar and salt

An upgrade to the Health Star Rating system comes into force on Monday.

Mytchall Bransgrove/Stuff

An upgrade to the Health Star Rating system comes into force on Monday.

An upgrade to the Health Star rating system, making it tougher on sugar and salt, comes into force on Monday.

The system helped consumers make healthier food choices by displaying the overall nutritional benefits of packaged foods, New Zealand Food Safety’s deputy director-general Vincent Arbuckle said.

The Health Star Rating scheme is used in New Zealand and Australia to help consumers choose the healthiest product within a food category.

The scheme gives foods a score based on their nutrient profile, comparing the “negative” nutrients – energy, saturated fat, sugars and sodium – against the “positive” – protein, dietary fibre, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.

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Products are then rated in stars from 0.5 stars to 5 stars. Foods with more stars are healthier than similar foods with fewer stars – however, stars are not intended to be used to compare different types of foods.

Introduced in 2014, the trans-Tasman system was enhanced after a 2019 review found it was performing well, and suggested improvements to better reflect dietary guidelines.

Key changes include lower ratings for products with high levels of sugar and salt – including sugary breakfast cereals and fruit juices – and automatic five-star ratings for minimally processed fruit and vegetables.

“We heard some people had issues with ratings discrepancies, and we’ve listened to their concerns,” Arbuckle said.

“By using the best and latest science from a range of experts, and getting tougher on sugar and salt, those issues have been addressed, and the system is more robust.”

The changes meant consumers could be confident of making better on-the-spot decisions, he said.

All manufacturers participating in the opt-in system are now required to have updated their labeling to reflect the changes.

The Health Star Rating system remains voluntary – and there is no government charge to use it – but if uptake by manufacturers does not meet a 70% target by 2025, the government will consider making the mandatory system.

By mid-2021, more than 5600 products in supermarkets had health stars on their labels, including both manufacturer and in-house brands at Countdown, Four Square, New World and Pak’nSave.

Uptake monitoring will next be done in November 2023, to assess progress against an interim government target of 50% of intended products displaying the stars.

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