Health star ratings give an easy indicator of a product's nutrition (?)

The government’s current voluntary health star rating system boasts to provide “a quick and easy way to compare the nutritional profile of packaged foods.” The ratings range from ½ a star to five stars, with more stars indicating a healthier product.

However, do the ratings acheive the desired results and help better inform you as a consumer? Leave a comment below to enter our MythDefied competition and help people understand health stars.


If buying packaged/processed products with a Health Star rating, I generally do not even consider it. For a laugh recently my wife and I had a look at the packaged breakfast cereals in the supermarket (I always make my own muesli from raw ingredients) that were highly rated, one was 4*, even though it was more than 25% sugar!

Always good for a laugh for us, but the worry is that some people think 4 stars means it is a healthy food.


The scheme is opaque. The HSR web site does provide a calculator but does not (AFAIK) provide the algorithm used nor a list of products that have been rated. [Edit: the formula is hidden away here.] One is left to either look over products in the supermarket or to read evaluations from 3rd parties to find out what is going on. No information is given about how the formula or its parameters were agreed and what compromises were sought or given. As a party to the negotiations I wonder why Choice has not published any of the internal workings. A fly on the wall at the negotiations would have an interesting tale to tell. If concessions were not given to industry in order to keep them at the table and engaged I would be mightily surprised.

The scheme is complex and full of anomalies according to a wide range of health experts. There is a process for evaluating apparent anomalies but its main purpose seems to be to reject challenges by explaining that they don’t fit within the definitions used. This kind of curating of boundary issues is a strong indicator of inexplicable complexity and attempts at simplification by definition. Various disclaimers are given to get over these problems, one is that the system is intended to compare like with like. So the rating of two brands of crumbed fish are comparable but do not compare the ratings of crumbed fish to meat pies. This disclaimer does not seem to be widely understood in the community. The infamous Milo anomaly of as sold versus as used has not been resolved and there are plenty more similar.

Add to the above problems the fact that the system is voluntary and I doubt that the level of understanding or trust in the community is very high. I would be very interested if there has been any evaluation of community use of the system, I suspect it would show few pay much attention to it.

The aim was to improve community health by allowing buyers to make decisions much more easily about the health of manufactured food. I strongly doubt it has achieved that yet and it may never do so. Until there is a post implementation review** that shows the scheme is actually effective I am forced to conclude tentatively that it is a waste of time and money.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

** You can tell a great deal about any supposed improvement scheme simply by finding out how well (or if) they build a post implementation review into the plan. I cannot find a reference to this on the HSR web site.


If a product such as Nutrigrain can claim 4* then the system needs review. It is just full of sugar.


We don’t pay any attention to the stars. They are as useless as… (I’ll leave you to fill in the blank).

There is no objective basis to the stars as far as I can tell. They are not comparable between product lines, so something with 4 stars can have as much sugar (as a %) as something with only 1 star in another product. I think it is more a facade to allow the food industry to proceed as before, while attempting to placate the healthy diet campaigners.

Are there any longitudinal scientific study(s) to see if the stars have made any improvement to diets? Until then, any claimed benefit is pure guess work and may be just coincidental.

To know how healthy a product is, I read the constituents/ingredients list based on a per 100g basis (which most products have on the label), as the serve sizes are manipulated to maximise the apparent healthiness of products.

In my opinion, the health stars need to be an absolute measure, as part of a healthy balanced diet, and a daily intake requirement/recommendation that can be used evaluate and single food item, or to compare any food items against each other in terms of their nutritional benefit. This means it has to be multi-factorial measure and consider things like sugar, types and quantity of fats, minerals, vitamins, fibre, etc, etc. I recognise that this would require a lot more work, but it would be scientific, measurable, and usable. And it would be independently verifiable!

If this approach were used, it could be extended to non-processed food as well, like fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc. Then people might become more aware of the nutritional value of fresh produce, and perhaps even eat healthier!

May be it could be used to manage diets too? For example, with proper calculation, people could eat a determined number of Health Stars a day to stay within a healthy eating/daily food intake range.

At the moment, they the health stars are worthless.


They are a waste of space…Milo gets 41/2 fresh dates get 31/2…go figure???


Interesting post, Consumer defender…

you can find the algorithm for calculating Health Star Ratings on the website, under Guide for Industry.

As you suggest, it is multi-factorial, including sugar, saturated fats, fibre and fruit and vegetable content (which is better than vitamins and minerals since it reflects real food rather than chemicals).

However, I agree with you that there are elements of facade in the system, whose overall aim was to encourage industry to re-formulate products as well as to change consumer behaviour.

Since the food industry’s overall aim is to make money, as a nation, we will continue our unsustainable agriculture and over-eating habits. Health Stars might tinker around the edges but not bring about the fundamental change needed.

Australia has a red alert for the “No Hunger” Sustainable Development Goal 3. Our unsustainable agricultural system and high rate of obesity rate us very poorly on the SDGs.


I have tagged this on to an old topic as the issues are very much the same - nothing much has changed in the last year.

A group of academics on The Conversation have revived the topic. Why the Australasian Health Star Rating needs major changes to make it work

It is interesting that their criticisms are very much the same as those raised here.

While they muse that the system is not well understood by consumers (duh!) they don’t explicitly talk about how to remedy that problem. More interesting is that the only specific recommendation that they make is that the system ought to be compulsory. However this is immediately watered down by saying that if it is not made mandatory (perhaps when the manufacturers cry about cost) a non-participation label should be implemented instead.

They conclude:
“However, any regulation of the food industry is likely to be resisted by its strong and well-organised lobbying power. To fight this battle, the consumers’ voice is crucial to ensure we can all make good and healthy foods choices.”

I don’t think there will be too much disagreement about that round here. But how might that voice be heard? Too hard.

On the whole this is a pretty weak effort, they seem resigned to failure. I thought some facts might help, such as costing compulsory implementation and costing the purported benefits to public health. I note that the authors are into business law and marketing but not public health or nutrition, perhaps that explains their lack of grunt.