CHOICE membership

Health Star Ratings Being Gamed

Completed it, Tweeted it and the following are my comments that I added:

Some products use terms like “natural” or “organic” to try and convince the public that this makes the product healthy as a choice. This is sometimes not the healthy product that the labeling would try to convince you of, eg too much sugar regardless of whether organic, natural, or not. Health stars that truly reflect the health choices of the product would help consumers then be able to compare more accurately the benefits between two similar type products rather than relying on some other advertising slogan.

and

Too much vested interest in getting the Stars to reflect the desire of Industry to sell a product regardless of it’s real nutritional value. Previously this was an issue with Nestle Milo as an example of the system being tweaked to reflect a marketing position rather than a “healthy option” position. I have other concerns around the desire for Industry to have choices on placement and sizings that can make it difficult to easily find and read the information and again this can obscure/reduce the benefits of a Star rating system.

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I have also responded with the following:

Why should Health Stars be mandatory?

Health Stars should be mandatory as it is very difficult for most within the community to decipher the nutritional information on packaging to determine is a product is healthy. The 5 star system, while not perfect, as least provides a simplified rating based on some health criteria which allows one to make more informed decisions at the time of purchase. Information on the packaging alone can’t be relied upon for determining a products healthiness. Manufacturers are very cleaver in using words like ‘fresh’, ‘natural’, ‘organic’, ‘pure’, ‘real’, ‘whole grain’, ‘gluten free’ etc to imply that a product is healthy, when in fact the product is somewhat unhealthy. Bypassing the marketing jargon allows one to make better selection of foods for oneself and ones family.

Why do you think industry involvement in the design of Health Stars is an issue?

Industry should be involved in the development of a star rating system as most manufacturers have internal expertise (such as food scientists, nutritionists etc) which may be valuable in the evolution for a better system. This expertise also has the ability determine impacts on their own products and also what manufacturing amelioration needs to be undertaken to improve product health ratings. If industry is involved, only those which have the necessary experience to contribute to the system review and development should occur. This means that marketing/communication, legal or accounting personnel (or others without necessary qualifications and experience) should sit on the sides as their contribution is likely to be in support of the business, not necessarily the health rating system. Industry should also be involved so that they hopefully they endorse or embrace the healthy rating system moving forward.

I possibly should have also said not thinking of it that industry should not control the process, but be a participant adding input if and when required.

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Proposed changes would have an interesting effect on some products:

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In that regard to Milo what would be or is the impact on the health star numbers of their newer Milo with 30% less sugar in it? Not that I care to drink it but I assume it is a move to regain some lost face/ground over the previous 4.5 star debacle they had. Am I being cynical about the change? Or are they really concerned about the health impacts and are trying to improve their healthy offerings?

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The Health Star Review has lodged its report. Choice has given its view of the outcome.

It is hard to come to grips with the conclusions of the review yet as it all goes to government now and who knows if the recommendations will be accepted. Only a draft report (february 2019) is available so far so we don’t really know what is going to government much less what will be adopted.

I found the draft report flawed in several respects, a real worry since it no doubt cost a lot of taxpayers’ money. Let’s say at this point the data presented does not support the conclusions reached. I suspect the fix is in. However let us see what comes up in the final, perhaps it will be repaired. It is already overdue.

This has a way to go yet.

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Have to agree with this, especially with regard to the sugar issue… its mindboggling, the products that have sugar added. Scones from coles, for example, have added sugar. WTF?

I’ve become very annoyed lately though, with frozen meals. All producers seem to have changed from adding salt, to adding pepper. Now thats probably fine for those who like pepper, but I just dont. I have a small dispenser of black peppercorns for an occasional “dose” on my scrambled eggs, but otherwise never use pepper. Try getting your YouFoodz or Lite’n’Easy without it. BAH! I’d be happy if they left salt and pepper out, entirely. Let us all make our own decision about how much to have.

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Choice has scored some kudos on the ABC News website.

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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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