The Federal Government’s Health Star Rating system (HSR to its friends) is being heavily promoted as a solution the nation’s out-of-control obesity and chronic disease problem.  But it has turned into a food industry marketing stunt that is part of the problem not part of the solution.

This week HSR turned 1.  And as any one year old might expect, it got some lovely presents.  The government committed to spending $2.1 million telling everybody what a jolly good idea it is.  And they also cut a cheque to the Heart Foundation to look after the little fella for the next 2-5 years.

It seems everybody has been celebrating.  Sanitarium has been spending up big telling us that Up&Go (20% sugar) has 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Uncle Toby’s have also had the ad makers working round the clock, reminding us that you don’t have to drink your breakfast or have boring old oats.  Your kids can have their terrific 4 star sugar-loaded (25% sugar) oats instead.

The new multi-million dollar ad campaign helpfully tells us the more stars there are (to a maximum of 5) the healthier the food.

The government must be using a different definition of healthy to the World Health Organisation, the Canadian Heart Association and the British Medical Association, (to name just a few), because I doubt any of them would be likely to describe a ‘food’ that is 25% added sugar as healthy.  And yet that is exactly the type of ‘food’ getting the 4 and 5 star ratings in Australia.

Meanwhile, food that has sustained humans for millennia, like butter, coconut oil or yoghurt is flat out breaking the one star barrier.  Even strawberry liquorice (42% sugar) does better than that (2.5 stars).

They all score badly because they contain saturated fat.  For decades that kind of fat has been painted by nutritionists as the dietary villain.  But recent reviews of the science conducted by the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends dropping saturated fat (and cholesterol) from its list of nutrients of concern because there is no evidence connecting it with heart disease.

The HSR is a marketing program developed by and for the processed food industry (but paid for by the taxpayer).  Its development panel includes the Australian Beverages Council (whose members include Coca-cola and Pepsi) and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (whose membership list is the phone directory for the processed food industry).

It, like the Heart Foundation tick (which coincidentally appears on all the ‘healthy’ products I mention above) should be used as a guide to what foods to completely ignore.  The less stars a product has the less likely it is to do you harm.

But this isn’t an amusing little sideshow.  People are being actively told by their government to consume products that will unequivocally harm them.  They are being told that high sugar, high seed oil products like Up&Go are the best thing they can eat when the evidence says the exact opposite.

We wouldn’t tolerate a Government sponsored program that actively encouraged children to smoke (for their health) so let’s not tolerate our money being used to market sugar laced, seed oil as health food.

Don’t tolerate you and your family being treated like processed food dump sites.  Write to Sussan Ley (the Minister responsible for this abomination) and tell her you don’t want your money spent on a labelling system designed by Big Food’s marketing department.  And tell her you want your government to base its dietary advice on evidence, not what Big Food needs to sell this week.

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Rob McGavin says:

    How can highly refined Canola oil using chemicals and heat and containing more than .5% transfats (4 stars) and no natural antioxidants have more stars then Extra Virgin olive oil (3.5 stars) which is naturally produced as the juice of the olive fruit, full of antioxidants and according to research by Brown university in the USA is the best food on earth for the prevention of chronic disease including cancer, heart disease, inflammation, and some cancers.
    It is so disappointing that our government and health department are knowingly misleading consumers and then standing behind and trying to justify such a flawed system.

  • Johan says:

    Australia is a corporate fascist police state. All the poor sheep think they live in a democracy.

  • Jude says:

    Milo is rated 4.5 stars when added to milk, what about mixed in with icecream?. Lol .. In that case wiil extra virgin olive oil rate higher when drizzled over a salad? Just another flaw in this concept, how about rating the product as it is in its original packaged form. I just bought fresh salmon from Coles with 4 stars but my children pointed out the milo was healthier for them. Great article David, keep fighting the good fight.

  • Chris Adams says:

    Maybe if sugar is added to EVOO it can catch up to canola oil

  • […] Is Australia’s health star rating system really doing its job? David Gillespie, who wrote Sweet Poison, suggests that it is nothing but a food-industry marketing stunt: Health Star or Death Star?. […]

  • Peter McFarlane says:

    The Nestle Milo example is a HSR travesty! Milo with 46.4% added sugar gets 4.5 stars because of the way it is allegedly consumed – three heaped teaspoons in SKIM milk – can you believe it?
    So why not re-calculate the 3.5 star rated EVOO (universally acknowledged by dieticians as a “super-food”) it usually consumed – drizzled on steamed vegetables and garden salads!
    As it stands the only way we could increase the star rating of olive oil would be to re-engineers natures product – by blending it with canola and emulsify it with water to make a spread – this would achieve 4.5 stars but clearly would become a less healthy product!
    Thank you Health Star Rating System! NOT!

  • Mina says:

    The public are waking up. The ‘star’ rating system is misleading, dangerous and offensive to anyone with common sense. How can all natural butter be one star and flora margarine be five star, it’s fake food, plastic like, the body does not know what to do with it.
    Milo 4.5 stars really? Salmon is 4 stars, Milo is 4.5 stars (in Milk), this is misleading. So a child can rightly argue that Milo is healthier than salmon. What is a mother us posed to do?
    The government health nutrition guidelines, DAA guidelines and the Heart Foundation have sent a generation of children into adulthood with obesity, diabetes and heart decease. They have failed the most vulnerable. Australian deserve better for these institutions. Money corrupts. The DAA and The Heart Foundation need to detangle themselves from corporate sponsorship. It’s blood money.

  • Jane says:

    This is insane. This country is in a detrimental state of health and the government is literally promoting everything that’s wrong with what we eat. I wish I could do more to fight against this.

  • Carl says:

    You know the solution is pretty simple and it has nothing to do with pressure groups or writing to the minister (sorry David). Just don’t buy the stuff. Just about anything processed and prepackaged is detrimental to your health. Ultimately once you know Govt (corporation) is married to Big Industry, anything that comes from Govt is self serving and not in public interest. This is the same as the Heart Foundation Tick which gave the ok to margarine! OMG. Same spin, different day. Raising public awareness about the food industry scam and being conscious about how we spend our cash are the two most potent weapons we have. Support your local growers, go wholefoods, cook and grow your own foods, cut out grains, sugar and simple carbs (generally speaking), increase good fats and viola, healthier and more vibrant people. Just ignore this labeling hoopla. It’s akin to marketing and labeling something gluten free that’s actually naturally gluten free anyway! Who believes what the Govt says anyway? Thanks for the article David.

  • Liz says:

    Would not believe a word that comes from any government departments mouth all in bed with industry Don’t buy the products money talks

  • Peter says:

    The heart foundation is a fake charity. Its boss was the boss of csr sugar figure it out. The health star system is crazy how can nutri grain be 4 stars and greek yogurt 1 ? Remember when mcdonalds had the heart foundation tick of approval?

  • Jamie Hayes says:

    I have a far simpler method regarding food labels. “Eat less food with labels.”

    It’s a pity that the HSR website does not say the words “Fresh and unprocessed are best. They have no labels.”

  • Mike says:

    My “system” is to shop round the walls of the supermarket for fresh foods and only dive into the centre aisles for food that is no more than one step avway from growing or grazing in the paddock, flying over it or swimming past.
    Tomato paste, Brunswick Sardines, olive oil etc. I make my own yogurt and Kefir and have a veg patch.

    Fortunately I’ve been partnered 5 times, none of them could cook so I’ve turned out to be a good chef.
    I stopped believing a single word emanating from the HF when they sold the tick of approval to McDonalds Chicken Nuggets.

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