CHOICE membership

Health Star Ratings Being Gamed

Signed and tweeted it. Heh I notice the Kelloggs Nutri Grain in there (wonders why NOT :slight_smile: )

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Thanks @grahroll :slight_smile:

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One of the issues I have with the current labelling system is that unless ones kmows the star rating process (which is not many of us) and then takes time to read the nutritional panel, one doesn’t really know why a particular food got a particular star rating.

For example, three boxes of cereal could have a 4 star rating, one with elevated sugar, one with elevated salt/sodium and the other elevated fats.

One looking at the boxes would assume healthwise that all three at the same, but for one trying to say reduce sodium intake, the first two may be an okay choice, whilst the third may be a poor choice.

It would be good if the stars showed somehow why the rating was given…e.g. high sodium, sugar, fat etc so one can make a more informed choice about the products they plan to buy. This could easily be done with simple coding on the same label.

Such additional labelling could also force manufacturers to change their ingredients to make them more healthy…especially if everyone started to buy products only low in sugar and fats as an example.


An interesting thought, but there is the obvious tension reducing complex accuracy in a multi-variate context into a simple flag. I think health stars, as with any jargon, loses as much or more than it conveys because of that reduction.

Perhaps the health star could be enhanced by badges such as low or high salt, low or high sugar, etc. It would be an interesting process as the debate about what “low” and “high” mean as the producers and their marketing people get their backs up at having to come clean.

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Having just returned from Chile, in Chile they have introduced stop signs on their food packaging where the foods high in sugar, saturated fats, calories etc are clearly labelled on the front of the packaging.

While the stop signs may not be appropriate where star rating exists, similar information included in these stop signs would be useful to be somehow included in the rating label.

It could be as simple as adding a letter code such as S for high sugar, Na for high salt/sodium, F for high fat etc.

I also see that the Federal Department of Health gives the following as an example of voluntarily applied label. I wonder why such labels with additional information are not common and why manufacturers only apply the health star rating by itself…or where some of the additional information is included, it does not contain information of whether it his high, medium or low.

I also agree with Choice with the product itself only being used to assess the start rating and not how the manufacturer may think (or wishes) consumers to use the product.


All ecellent suggestions. I woke up one morning recently and realised i’m now over 70. Sadly this brings with it some physical difficulties of which young people who produce product packaging and documentation, have yet to experience.

For health reasons i, like majority of my generation, try to read nutritional information on product packaging and the pricing data on supermarket shelf talkers. I find that on many shrink wrapped products the packaging is too distorted or read, OR the print is so small I can only unferstand it with the help of a magnifying glass.

FINALLY, i often find similar products like milk or cheese priced in different units. Some per kilo, others by 100 grammes… My request is simple, PLEASE will manufacturers and packagers make the fine print ledgible and understandable. Not just food, but LEGAL CONTRACTS as well. 6pt light grey print on white paper may, to me, just as well be written in invisible ink.

DR. Geoff.


Thanks for the thoughts @phb, I’ve been thinking over your comments and I’m hoping we can do more to help guide consumers, while at the same time we continue to campaign for bigger changes. Stay tuned for more. As an aside, I’ve previously visited the Google office and dined in the staff areas and interesting to note that they also use a traffic light system to indicate to staff the different values of any particular menu item.

Thanks also to @geoffql, we appreciate the thoughts and you’re certainly not alone in those difficulties as we’ve heard from many consumers expressing the same frustrations.


Also, maybe if added sugar is considered moving forward, added fat (oil) should also be included on labeling as well. I would rather know how much of both is added rather than just the sugar…especially when the added fats could be from dubious sources such as rainforest cleared palm oil. Added fats also have health consequences. Added sugar is not the only ‘villain’.

Embodied fats (like sugars) in foods can be hard to avoid unless the food group is dropped, but added oil (and sugar) can be avoided by better labeling and product selection.


Therein lies the problem :wink:


I totally agree with Brendan’s suggestion and I totally disagree with a ‘sugar tax’.
Better consumers be fully informed without needing to scan the small print on the ingredients list of every product in the category.
So many so called ‘healthy’ products promote low fat but have high sugar levels or visa versa and still get a good health star rating.

Andrea Osborne
Mt Martha


PS: I’d love you to analyse Nescafe’s sachel cappuccino’s. I try to avoid added salt in my diet but after one of these, I really need a glass of water. Sodium of any sort is not included in the ingredients list.

Andrea Osborne (again)
Mt Martha Vic.

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I suggest the solution for you is to take control of what you eat, not defer to what manufacturers put in front of you. I am over 70 and do all the cooking in the household. We avoid pre-prepared and packaged stuff. I also suggest that you try learning a new skill - in your case, cooking - which would be of benefit to your brain as you age.

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Being well-informed is extremely important when it comes to food and nutrition. I trust Choice to do the right thing. Always have, always will.

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geoffql, all foods are quoted in both ‘serving size’ and 100g. To make a proper comparison you should compare the 100g figures.

A serving size is irrelevant because people would usually serve themselves more than the designated amount. Consider breakfast cereal, most people would eat far more than the 25-30gms listed on the packet.

Also using serving size is a way manufacturers to bring their product into a more seemingly ‘nutritious’ bandwidth than using a more realistic amount. Much like Milo uses making it with skimmed milk to beef up the nutritional value of a decidedly junk product to get a better star rating.

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I think any food containing any amount of genetically modified ingredients (not just protein above a certain level as is the current rule, but also oils eg canola) needs to be factored in to the health star graphics too. Many people want to avoid GM foods for various reasons including health concerns, environmental concerns, future food security concerns, etc, etc. Having very limited research regarding safety in humans and some worrying results in rodent research it is far from clear what risks there may be, so any health star rating should indicate this too.

Regarding the health star system as it is, people need to realise that it is a cheats way to assess a product, a short cut that can never give you all the information available on the ingredients list and the nutrition information panel, no matter how much it is tweaked. Not to say we shouldn’t tweak it and get it as right as we possibly can, but it is always going to have its limits. Nothing replaces arming yourself with knowledge and learning how to read whats on the back panel. The best cheats advice I can give ifor when you are food shopping s pretty much avoid the middle of the shop and just go around the edges. This is where all the fresh stuff is and where you’ll find most of the least processed food.

I agree regarding the tiny print, pale print on a pale background, very poorly located (eg under a package seam), or so hard to find because it is ‘hidden’ amongst all the other so called information. If I can’t find or read the ingredients I don’t buy it. I do carry a small, folding magnifying glass and a additive code breaker in the shopping bags to ease the frustration…

I wont be able to attend, but some here might be interested:

You are being contacted as you provided submissions to the Public Submissions to the Five Year Review of the HSR system.

As you know, the Health Star Rating (HSR) Advisory Committee – the group responsible for overseeing the voluntary implementation of the HSR system – has initiated a five year review of the HSR system.

mpconsulting has been engaged as the independent reviewer to conduct the review and has organised workshops for interested stakeholders. The purpose of the workshops is to seek the views of stakeholders in relation to key consultation questions and start to explore the key issues in detail, along with options for addressing the issues identified with respect to the HSR system.

For detailed information about the workshops and how to register, please see the attached invitation or go to HSR Stakeholder Workshops.

In relation to venues yet to be confirmed, please check the website shortly.

Please feel free to distribute this information to your contacts.

Kind regards
Front-of-Pack Labelling Secretariat
Freecall: 1800 099 658


Thanks for sharing this @gordon :thumbsup:


Hi all, with the five year review of health stars around the corner, we want to know where health stars are working and where they aren’t - are there specific products whose health star rating doesn’t seem right?

No system starts out perfect and this is our opportunity to shape health stars to make sure the system works for consumers, not food companies.

Have your say here and please share with others to get their thoughts too.



Contributed some input on the questionnaire and posted to Facebook .


The Health Star system isn’t perfect - loopholes mean you might see unhealthy products receiving a high Health Star Rating, or companies not using health stars honestly.

The government has released their draft review of the system and big reforms are on the table, including:

  • 5-star ratings by default for all fruit and vegetables
  • Better drinks labelling (no more meaningless ‘energy ratings’)
  • Better requirements for applying Health Stars to as many products as possible
  • A comprehensive database of Health Stars to monitor the system
  • Greater government influence over how Health Stars are calculated, with less industry input.

These changes will make a positive difference to Health Star Ratings, and help you make better choices when you’re shopping for groceries.

While these changes are major improvements, there is still more to do. @LindaPrzhedetsky is putting together our official response to the review, and needs your help in answering two quick questions - follow the link to fill out the form: