Experts weigh in on new food rating system

  • 16/03/2016

Nutritional experts say a new rating system launched for front-of-pack labelling on foods is a good starting point for the country's obesity battle, but it comes with flaws.

The Health Star Rating system uses ratings of 1/2 to 5 stars to show consumers the overall nutritional content and healthiness of packaged foods.

Foods lower in saturated fat, sugar or salt, or higher in fibre, protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts or legumes will have more stars.

But AUT University Health and Environmental Science professor Elaine Rush says the system lacks information about the ingredients in the product.

She also says some nutrients can be manipulated to fit the cut off criteria so the product is awarded more stars.

"There is no information on the front of pack about what the ingredients are in the product, for example additives and preservatives, and how highly processed the product is - how much of the sugar is part of the ingredients -- naturally present in milk, dried fruit -- and how much has been added."

She says it will take some time for all products in a range to gain the health star rating.

University of Auckland Medical and Health Sciences professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu says the system is a good starting point but it's just "one tool in the toolbox".

"We should be also looking closely at some of the potentially cost-effective obesity interventions recommended by organisations and institutions around the world," she says.

Professor Ni Mhurchu says at the end of the day people just want to know whether a food is a healthy option or not.

As part of this week's awareness campaign, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says advertising will be put on bus shelters and in the cereal aisles of some supermarkets.

"Being overweight or obese is expected to overtake tobacco as the leading preventable risk to health in New Zealand in the next 12 months," says Mr Coleman.

The rating system has been introduced by the Government as part of the Childhood Obesity Plan, launched in October 2015.