19 May 2014
University of the Sunshine Coast research has offered qualified support for moves to implement new Health Star Ratings for packaged food in Australia.
Sheri Cooper is in the final year of her Science PhD at USC and presented her preliminary findings at the Dietitians Association of Australia annual conference in Brisbane last weekend.
Ms Cooper, an accredited practising dietitian who has worked in chronic disease management for 14 years, reviewed 28 studies used in developing the models for the star rating system for front-of-pack nutrition labelling on foods.
“Behind every label is a nutrient profiling model and we wanted to examine the accuracy of these in classifying the healthiness of food,” she said.
The voluntary system aims to give consumers at-a-glance information about food purchases through a ratings scale of 0.5-5 stars (where 5 stars represents the most nutritionally sound). It is due to be discussed in June at the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation.
Ms Cooper said evidence for the new system was consistent with information available from other measures of healthiness but more research was needed.
“The star ratings system is an important public health strategy – a good tool to help consumers make healthier food choices – but there have been no studies conducted to see if the system improves health outcomes,” she said.
“The next phase of our research will assess whether people who choose foods with the higher star ratings have less incidence of chronic disease.”
Associate Professor Fiona Pelly, who leads USC’s Nutrition and Dietetics program and is supervising the PhD, said, “Sheri’s research is leading the way in our understanding of nutrition labelling”.
“This is a positive step towards reducing risk of chronic disease,” Dr Pelly said.
– Julie Schomberg