In a response to growing concerns about obesity, the Health Star Rating system was developed by the Australian, state and territory governments in collaboration with industry, public health and consumer groups. It’s a voluntary program, with foods displaying ratings from a half to five stars. The healthiness of foods is determined by an algorithm that assesses risk and positive nutrients in food.
The Health Star Rating can either show just the star rating of the product or can show the star rating plus additional specific nutrient content of the product. The system was promoted as encouraging manufacturers to make products healthier. It acknowledged that governments can’t force people to eat healthy foods, but can play a role in providing tools to make healthy choices. By October 2015 there were more than 1500 products carrying a Health Star Rating on their packaging.
A review of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system was performed in 2019 and found it had, in general, been performing well and there was strong support for the system to continue. The review made several recommendations for improvements including:
- the HSR system continue as a voluntary system with the addition of some specific industry uptake targets and that the Australian, state and territory and New Zealand governments support the system with funding for a further four years;
- that changes are made to the way the HSR is calculated to encourage dietary intake that is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, and include minimally processed foods such as canned and frozen fruits and vegetables into the system; and
- that some minor changes are made to the governance of the system, including transfer of the HSR calculator to Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
The HSR system has not been without controversy. Because the rating was calculated on an “as prepared” basis, products high in undesirable ingredients such as sugar could still obtain a high rating. Most notable of these was Milo, which was given a 4.5 star rating. This was based on three spoonfuls of Milo mixed with skim milk. Critics pointed out that it was extremely unlikely that the product would be consumed this way and Nestlé was forced to remove the rating.