Deakin University's research suggests ultra-processed foods are often represented as being healthier than they are.

Star wars

June 4, 2020 BY

Deakin University released a study last month claiming the Health Star Rating system commonly seen on supermarket products may be misleading customers.

Launched in June 2014, the Health Star Rating is the most prominent nutritional policy in Australia. However, research conducted by Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition suggests it has some major flaws.

Research lead Sarah Dickie said the Health Star Rating system’s evaluation process was overly simplistic.

“The algorithm underpinning the Health Star Rating system is based on only a handful of nutrients and doesn’t account for the level of processing or the form of the whole food.

“This discrepancy could lead to mistrust in the system as the symbol may be seen as just another marketing tactic by manufacturers.”

The research showed 73 per cent of ultra-processed food products displayed a Health Star Rating of at least 2.5 stars.

Among the products researchers flagged as having misleadingly high ratings were Streets Blue Ribbon Vanilla Bean Reduced Fat Ice Cream (4.5 stars), Arnott’s Tiny Teddy Oat & Honey Biscuits (4 stars), Uncle Tobys Roll-Ups Passionfruit Flavoured Rolls (3 stars), and Four ‘N Twenty Toppers Mac ‘N Cheese (3 stars).

Ms Dickie said in its current form the Health Star Rating system is largely counterintuitive.

“The simple message that more stars equals healthier food is widely understood by the public but our research shows the stars don’t always match dietary guidelines and can be confusing to Australians who use the stars as part of their purchasing decision.

“An effective front-of-pack health label should be discouraging junk foods, not promoting them.”