4 October 2017

Take 4: Food stars vs traffic lights

Nutrition Public Health

Why did Australia settle on a star food rating system rather than traffic lights?

The five-star food rating system provides consumers with an “at a glance” indication of the healthiness of a food product.

Each food is assigned a number, which takes into account salt, saturated fat, sugar, energy density, calcium, protein, fibre, and fruit and the vegetable content.

“The idea is that this information is displayed on every packaged food [and] potentially in the future on fresh foods and vegetables,” said Professor Bruce Neal, an epidemiologist at The George Institute for Global Health.

Australia chose the star rating system after a decade of engagement between public health, the government and industry.

“Originally public health was very much of the view that it wanted traffic lights to be the system,” said Professor Neal.

“What traffic lights do is show you a red/bad, green/good labelling for four key nutrients, but only the adverse nutrients, so saturated fat, sugar, salt and energy.”

The food industry refused to put red labels on their products as this looked like a warning to consumers.

“We ended up with a compromise position, which was health stars,” said Professor Neal.

However, stars might actually be the best system as they were less confusing for consumers, he said.