Health Star Ratings should be compulsory, Australian health groups say

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 21st January 2015
Health Star Ratings should be compulsory, Australian health groups say
Health Star Ratings should be compulsory, Australian health groups say

Four leading Australian health groups have called on the new Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley and the Australian government to make the new Health Star Ratings system compulsory for packaged food products.

Currently, the government has made the system voluntary for 2 years before a decision is made on whether to make it mandatory.

The call to make the Star Rating system compulsory was issued by a group consisting of the Consumers Health Forum, the Heart Foundation, the Obesity Policy Coalition and the Public Health Association of Australia and said there was a need to “take decisive action to end the widespread marketing of junk food and drink to children”.

Australian Food News reported in December 2014 that the troubled Health Star Ratings website had been relaunched by the Australian Government. The website provides a range of information to help consumers understand how to use the health stars when they are shopping for groceries. It also includes detailed information for food manufacturers and industry about applying the HSR to their products.

The relaunched website was the second iteration of the Health Star Ratings website— the first version of the Federal Health Department-sponsored website to list the Health Star Ratings of foods was taken offline just hours after it was launched, a move that was much criticised by health and consumer groups at the time.

Poll finds many Australians concerned about children’s eating habits

According to the group, more than 80 per cent of Australians think unhealthy eating habits are a “major problem” for children, according to the findings of a poll commissioned by the group. Their research also found that more than three quarters feared that if Australians did not lower their intake of fatty, sugary and salty foods, today’s children would “live shorter lives than their parents”.

Re-start national preventative health measures

The campaign by the group comes in the context of the Federal government’s recent abolition of the National Preventative Health Authority.

The group called on Minister Ley to work with Assistant Health Minister, Fiona Nash, to develop a comprehensive national obesity prevention strategy, including:

  • “Moving as quickly as possible to make the new health food stars rating system compulsory for packaged food products, a measure supported by more than three quarters of people polled.
  • “Opposing the marketing of junk food to children on social media and outlawing advertising of these products during TV programs popular with children, including sports broadcasts
  • “Exploring a tax on sugar sweetened beverages
  • “Renewing and strengthening the national food reformulation program to reduce excessive sugar, fat and salts in processed food”.

“It’s time for decisive action when 85 per cent of Australians says unhealthy diet is a problem for our children and 79 per cent fear their children will live shorter lives because of their fatty, sugary and salty food and drinks,” the four organisations said in their statement.

The organisations said that despite at least six reports from taskforces, obesity summits and research papers in the past 20 years advocating firm measures “to stop marketing junk food to children, the advertising of fat, sugar and salt-drenched products continued largely unrestricted”.

Action needed on ‘obesity crisis’, Heart Foundation

Heart Foundation National CEO Mary Barry said the obesity crisis was threatening a whole generation of children.

“The last thing children need, is more incentive to pester parents for unhealthy snacks,” Ms Barry said. “We have a national obesity crisis and action is needed now,” she said.

“Discretionary foods now make up 35 per cent of the Australian diet,” Ms Barry said. “These are not habits we want to pass on to our children. We call on the government to immediately launch a national obesity strategy that will tackle physical inactivity, food reformulation and tax sugar sweetened beverages. Such a tax would help protect Australian children and help stem the cost of obesity in this country which is estimated at $56 billion a year,” she said.

Government action ‘critical’

The president of the Public Health Association of Australia, Professor Heather Yeatman, said Government action was “critical” from both a health and financial perspective.

“Unless immediate action is taken to address dietary related illness there will be a significant increase in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” Professor Yeatman said. “With this increase in disease there is a commensurate loss in productivity, an increase in hospitalisation and more demand on our health systems,” she said.

“While food companies might be increasing their profits, it is the taxpayers that will be wearing the losses,” Professor Yeatman said. “Instead of taking action to address obesity and other dietary related illness we now have government MPs trying to make the situation worse by calling for a GST on fresh food,” she said.

Australian Food News reported earlier in January 2015 that suggestions from some Federal Government MPs that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) be extended to include fresh foods had been been criticised by both farmers and the Federal Opposition. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has since ruled out any moves to extend the GST to fresh foods.