A new voluntary Health Food Star Labelling system aims to give Australian and New Zealand consumers greater insight in the nutritional value of their food at a glance. Will it lead to healthier choices?

In June the Minister for Food Safety, Nikki Kaye, announced that the Government will be joining with Australia’s (voluntary) Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling system. This new Health Star Rating food labelling system is about making it quicker and easier for New Zealand consumers to make better informed, healthy choices. Hurray!

So how does the Health Food Star Labelling work?

The Health Star Rating System uses a star rating scale of ½ to 5 stars and, except for some exclusions like alcohol, it is able to be used on all packaged food products for retail sale.

Foods with more stars are said to have better nutritional value. The number of stars associated with each food is determined by an algorithm that considers the overall nutritional value of the food product – not just one aspect, such as sugar or fat content.

Read more from Food Safety NZ.



The front-of-pack labels use a five star scale to reflect the nutritional value of the food product.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries the system takes into account four aspects of a food associated with increasing the risk factors for chronic diseases (energy, saturated fat, sodium and total sugars) along with certain ‘positive’ aspects of a food such as fruit and vegetable content, and in some instances dietary fibre and protein content.

It is expected that it will be six to 12 months before the label starts appearing on shelves. Wow!

What do the experts have to say?

Dr Helen Eyles, Research Fellow, National Institute for Health Innovation, The University of Auckland, comments:

“Packaged foods, especially those which have undergone a lot of processing, tend to be high in adverse nutrients such as saturated fat, salt, and sugar.  Therefore, in an ideal world we would all be eating predominantly whole, fresh, unprocessed foods.   However, cost, convenience and other factors mean that packaged foods are often included in our diets.

“The new Health Star Rating food labelling system will provide New Zealand consumers with a much-needed consistent front-of-pack nutrition label to enable them to compare packaged foods and make healthier choices more easily.

“The new front-of-pack Health Star Rating food label on its own is not going to solve our alarming rates of obesity and diet-related disease in New Zealand.  However, it is a positive step in the right direction, and one component of a much-needed multi-factorial approach to improving New Zealanders health. ”

Dr Rachael McLean PhD, Senior Lecturer Public Health & Nutrition, University of Otago

“The recently announced decision to adopt a front of pack Health Star Rating food labelling system will be welcomed by many nutrition and public health practitioners as long overdue.  A simple front of pack label that consumers can understand allows consumers to choose products that are healthier, and encourage food manufacturers to reformulate and produce food items in order to achieve a better grade under the system.  Food


items will qualify for a star rating (between half a star and 5 stars) based on Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria outlined in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code- Standard 1.2.7 – Nutrition, Health and Related Claims. Nutrient Profiling involves an examination of a range of nutrients, awarding an overall score.  The star rating is accompanied by the Daily Intake Label already in use in New Zealand.
“A recent study commissioned by the Ministry for Primary Industries used an online experiment to test the ability of the Health Star Rating system to enable consumers to correctly identify a healthier food product compared to a control label with no front of pack label.  This was tested in general population sample as well as samples of M?ori and Pacific consumers. The study showed that the presence of the Health Star Rating label significantly improved consumers’ ability to identify healthier food products compared to the control.  However, the study did not test the Health Star Rating label against other interpretive front of pack labels such as the Multiple Traffic Light label favoured by the Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011).

“While it has been shown that under experimental conditions consumers are able to use the health star rating system to identify healthier food products, it is not clear how the system will operate in real world settings.  It is essential that the label is evaluated following its introduction to determine whether the presence of the label has an impact on consumer purchasing behaviour, as previous research suggests that consumers over-estimate their use of nutritional information and read information less than expected.  Improved nutrition has the potential to decrease obesity, and prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The introduction of a front of pack label such as the Health Star Rating has the potential to increase healthy eating, but should be part of wider initiatives to improve the nutritional quality of foods available in a variety of settings.”

Prof Cliona Ni Mhurchu, Programme Leader for Nutrition Research at the National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland, comments:

“Introduction of interpretive, front-of-pack nutrition labels is a positive step for New Zealand. We have high rates of obesity and diet-related disease in this country and simple, interpretive, front-of-pack nutrition labels have been identified as potentially one of the most cost-effective ways to counteract these problems. Good nutrition labels work in two ways: they help people identify healthier foods and make better food choices, and they provide an incentive to the food industry to reformulate their products so they can gain better ratings on the labels. Both of these should have positive effects on health…

“Reducing obesity is a huge challenge and should not be underestimated. While the adoption by New Zealand of an interpretive, front-of-pack labelling system is a step in the right direction it is no panacea. We need to do much more to improve our food environment, support healthy choices, and prioritise the health of all New Zealanders.”


Mummy to three small boys


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