A few simple changes to Australia’s Health Star Rating system can make an enormous difference according to researchers from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute's (SAHMRI) Health Policy Centre, The University of Adelaide and University of Wollongong.
PhD student Aimee Brownbill, who led the research, says the system for rating non-dairy drinks can be easily improved to give consumers better health and nutritional information.
“We know excess sugar is a major contributor to health problems in Australia, and we know a lot of that excess sugar comes from what we drink,” Ms Brownbill said.
“The Health Star Rating system is a great tool for people who want to make informed choices, but we think it will be more effective if it’s mandatory for all labels.”
Ms Brownbill says the system is currently being used more as a marketing tool for drink producers than an information tool for consumers.
“Our survey found less than seven per cent of drink labels carried Health Star Ratings, and those that did had almost all been awarded four-and-a-half or five stars” she said.
“Another problem we found was that more than 85 per cent of drinks showing five stars were fruit juices, which we know are high or very high in sugar content, often containing more than the recommended daily intake in one 500ml bottle.
“We propose changing the method for calculating ratings so that products aren’t scored higher for having high sugar juice. Really, water should be the only drink that earns a five-star rating.”
The research found a further 28.5 per cent of the drinks surveyed carried a stand-alone energy content icon, permitted within the system for use on beverages, rather than a star rating.
“We recommend use of the energy icon on its own be removed from the system altogether,” Ms Brownbill said.
“The energy icon is not comparable to the Health Star Rating icon that is more useful for consumers wanting to assess the health value of a drink.”
The research, published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia, surveyed labels from 762 single-serve, non-dairy drinks sampled from 17 supermarkets across Adelaide’s metropolitan area.