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Health Star Ratings Being Gamed

Well our fearless leaders have decided. Politicians reject push to make Health Star Ratings mandatory amid customer confusion Ho hum, maybe 2030 we will get a sensible system.

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It’s great to see some progress, ref link to the ABC update, @syncretic. :slightly_smiling_face:

The ABC Headline seems alas all wrong!

Politicians reject push to make Health Star ratings Mandatory!

Amid? (What do they mean?)

Customer Confusion!

Fortunately if you read the article “Customer Confusion” is neither the reason for the political ignorance and rejection, nor the outcome of the rejection.

The confusion related by Choice concerns how easy or hard customers find choosing healthy food products, given the current inadequate response of the industry to use of the star ratings. As well as how they are applied.

How added sugars are assessed for products star ratings was referred back to Food Standards A&NZ for review is the only positive.

P.S.
I was amused by the position of Primary Industries. Is there a looming internal contest between livestock producers and growers? All over the labelling and marketing of plant based alternate protein products.

How will our local politicians in seats heavily invested in a mix of plant and animal based agriculture sit that fence? Distraction perhaps? “Look a bright red glow has risen in the east and is fast approaching”. More likely another bush fire or the climate change sun than any sign of political eptitude!

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Another article regarding health star ratings.

What a disgrace that the recent Government meeting failed to choose to make health star ratings mandatory.

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Would you believe that:

MasterFoods
"NY CHEESEBURGER STYLE MAC & CHEESE"

gets a 4 out of 5 health star rating??

  • MasterFoods claim on its packaging to have 4 out of 5 health star rating per 100g as prepared
  • MasterFoods on the back of the pack then defines preparation as when made according to the recipe on pack
  • The recipe ingredients as the last “ingredient” as 600g Salad to serve and adds a final step to the preparation to serve the mac & cheese with “your favourite salad”
  • They’ve also tried to use the healthiest (priciest) options for ingredients (which is sadly more common practice, and not just what MasterFoods have done)

The packet makes 1.2kg of mac & cheese and the recipe makes the “meal” with a further 600g of salad.
Therefore, if the recipe is followed, there is 1.8Kg of “meal” in total. They then show the Daily Intake % figures for fats and protein etc as a percentage of a 304g “meal”. That “meal” percentages are misleading & is a third off of the mark, as the salad accounts for 33.3% of that ‘meal’.

What they’ve done is deceived the consumer. If the consumer sees that the Health Star Rating is high on mac & cheese, they’re going to think that the mac & cheese is a healthy option; when it’s not, and the side dishes are not included in that thought.
They’ve used a tool designed to help the consumer choose healthy options, and turn it around to deceive.

Imagine if I made a cheese pizza which would have scored 2 stars, then included in the preparation notes to serve it with a 2Kg salad; I’d have a “4 health star meal” then - but would that be fair to call the pizza healthy?

Parents are in stores making health conscious decisions for their family; this behaviour from MasterFoods blurs the lines between what’s healthy and what’s not, therefore putting the health of families & children at risk.

This isn’t acceptable behaviour from MasterFoods.

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Welcome to the forum @snap-dentist. A well presented post that I am moving it to this older topic that has related concerns about how companies are gaming the health star system.

Cheers,

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@snap-dentist, welcome to the forum and what a great investigative first post…well done.

Agree, and these sort of deceptions are about short term profits rather than protecting long term reputations.

I hope that appropriate action is taken…and this like the well known Milo deception… is also taken up by Choice.

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Oh for a national consumer policeman who can issue an on the spot notice to such businesses, order immediate remedy and fine the offender? Red light camera for deceptive packaging and marketing. Let Masterfoods argue the penalties after the fact in court if they choose.

Under the current system the misrepresentation could go on for a long time before the judicial feather is used to deliver a slap to the wrists.

I assume Colesworth et al are happy to have such products on their shelves, they should be called out at the same time. Or have they abandoned their community standards mantra in this instance.

Take the product off the shelves immediately.

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Welcome to the forum @snap-dentist . A well presented first post .

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I take absolutely no notice of health stars. I don’t buy very much processed food and when I do, I just buy what I want.

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I look at the health stars when browsing for a purchase, but check the nutritional panel when making a purchase decision.

I can see why you ignore them, as they can be somewhat misleading (or maybe ambitious might be a better word) or not give a indication of the products nutritional quality for a particular individuals needs.

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We mostly cook from fresh products. For prepackaged products if it is a major part of a meal we look at the health stars and the nutrition panel, and also importantly the country of origin details.

For all else we tend to pick one product we know and not look elsewhere. You soon learn which regular purchases have high salt, sugars etc.

Quite a long read, but I found it well worth it. Explaining how the increasing prevalence of processed food is leading to poor health outcomes.

Unfortunately, our health star ratings system takes virtually none of this into account, looking simply at macronutrient content with a few extra points for foods containing nuts, veggies etc. I can see why they do it as it would be very difficult to do otherwise, but I think it’s leaving us with poor outcomes.

For example:

Full Cream milk: 4 Stars :star2: :star2: :star2: :star2:
Ingredients:

  • Milk

Vanilla Bliss Soy MILK water. 5 stars :star2: :star2: :star2: :star2: :star2:
Ingredients:

  • Filtered Water
  • Soy Protein (3.5%)
  • Corn Maltodextrin
  • Cane Sugar
  • Fructose
  • Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Canola)
  • Acidity Regulators (332, 450)
  • Minerals (Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium)
  • Flavour
  • Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid)
  • Vitamins (B12, A, B2, B1)

The soy water is 12g of added sugars per serve and gets the maximum health star rating.

I give this example 3/5 shrugs :man_shrugging: :man_shrugging: :man_shrugging:

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this might be why…

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Welcome to the forum snap-dentist.

This is a shocker, easily the worst I’ve seen.

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In another thread I gave my recipe for Christmas trifle. It comes with a warning that it is very rich and should be reserved for special occasions. It is made of cake, booze, mangoes, creme patisserie, chocolate ganache, whipped cream and berries. It is scrumptious! Alone I would rate it as 1/2 star, which it gets for no added salt. To avoid weight gain you should run up the stairs of Sydney Tower once for each slice you eat.

It can be made into a meal (for 16) when served with 9.7 kg of dry coleslaw. It would then rate 4 stars. This marketing business isn’t too hard really.

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An article in the The Conversation has shown how bad the system of Health Stars is. It tallies well with what CHOICE have been saying in this area.

Authored by members of the George Institute for Global Health and published on 3 July this year it makes some interesting points including about who was and wasn’t on the Implementation Committee.

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Is it the system or is it how the system is being managed?

I was left with the impression that it is the management of the system we need to change. The principles behind the star ratings are being corrupted by poor management.

The report attributes this to a lack of regulation. The system is not mandatory and management is the responsibility of those with vested interests.

Should food suppliers and manufacturers have control over how their products are health star labelled?

The most important outcomes of reliable food labelling are most important for consumers. It seems so inappropriate, wrong that consumers do not have control. Or is it that the consumer’s representatives have ceded control to parties who have different interests?

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I take the management of the rating system to be an integral part of the system, without good management the whole system fails (or to those playing it it is probably seen as successful). As the article points out those who only represent 29% of the goods using the ratings, were on the implementation committee and the Coles, Woolworths and ALDI supermarkets whose goods were responsible for 56% of goods using the ratings were not represented. Is this skewing leading to the bad outcomes, to me it would seem to point to that. So not just the management of it but the rules that underpin it all are likely linked to the “gaming”.

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While still strictly following the system makers can choose to:

  • opt out for foods that would look bad or
  • to sell foods that are not healthy but score well by manipulating their presentation.

There is no management applied (or not applied) by authorities in these situations. We do not have these manipulations being reported as breaches of the code because they are not.

The problem is not that vested interests mismanaged the system after the fact it is that they had far too much influence on building the system from the ground up. They carefully arranged it so that no management was required.

There was a recent review but the authorities flubbed it, allowing (for example) rating of any given product to continue to be optional despite strenuous representations to the contrary. It is clear whose system it is, the manufacturers own it and the authorities meekly put their stamp on it.

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I found this one needed a second look.
You do need to look closely to make sure you read it as it is intended. Although most likely know the health star rating anyway. Or do we?

TimTams have health stars! 5? Oops 0.5 They do use a big fat 0 before the 5 just to be sure.
Yes, they also sort of fill in a little bit of the first star bottom left.
Well done Arnotts?

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