Making it easier to choose healthy foods

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Health problems linked to food and diet now affect a high proportion of Australia’s population. These include conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers as well as overweight and obesity – health risk factors of particular concern in rural and remote Australia.

A new Health Star Rating system for manufactured foods is one of the elements of what is in effect a three-pronged model to combat this immense challenge.

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation, made up of Australian and New Zealand Ministers responsible for food regulation, confirmed the staged introduction this year of the Health Star Rating system for packaged, manufactured and processed foods.

The System will give consumers at-a-glance information about the food they are buying through a star rating scale of ½ to 5 stars for packaged food products in Australia

The Health Star Rating system will make it much easier for shoppers to choose healthy foods and healthier brands. It does not provide guidance about the amount of any food which would be eaten as part of a healthy diet – and it has to be recognised that healthy eating is only part of what needs to be done to combat diet-related diseases.

The other two prongs of the approach are public education and information, and voluntary product reformulation by industry.

Public education will be required to maximise the value of the star rating system.

Product reformulation provides opportunities for food producers to contribute to innovation that makes the food supply healthier through reducing saturated fat, added sugar, sodium and energy, and increasing the fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content across a range of commonly consumed foods.

In Australia the Food and Health Dialogue represents a fledgeling approach to a more systematic approach to the reformulation of foodstuffs.

Salt content provides an important and, in other parts of the world, encouraging case study. It is estimated that, in Australia, salt contributes to 6000 avoidable deaths a year through its impact on hypertension. The Lancet has published a report describing quit smoking campaigns and reductions in excess salt in food as being among the most effective public health interventions.

In the UK there has been a 30 per cent reduction in added salt in processed foods over the past 10 years or so. It goes to show that a combination of government leadership and support, consumer and non-government advocacy, and industry responsiveness can have the desired results.

Watch this space. Read that label.

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