'Now is the time' to educate Australia on healthy diet

27 June, 2014

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) has congratulated the ministers at the Food Ministers' Forum meeting in Sydney for their support of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system and agreeing to re-establish the website that facilitates the HSR on packaged food.

"It is now over to industry. There is a clear opportunity for industry to assist in tackling the obesity epidemic. Consumers will appreciate the opportunity to have clear information on the nutritional content of the food they purchase and consume. It is so straightforward – the more stars the healthier the food," said Michael Moore, the CEO of the PHAA.

"It has been a difficult negotiation from the beginning with compromises on both sides.

"There were many private hiccups and a very public one when the HSR website was pulled down. However, the key element to success has been bureaucratic and political leadership. The Health Star Rating system would not have happened without the wisdom, understanding and engagement of Jane Halton, the Secretary of the Department of Health.

"Additionally, the political leadership through the process started with the then Parliamentary Secretary for Food (and now Shadow Health Minister) Catherine King. The completion has been managed under the guidance of Assistant Health Minister, Senator Fiona Nash, who is the Chair of the Health Ministers Forum that made the decision today (27 June).

"Since the demise of the Health Star Rating website there have been ongoing negotiations, including a number of meetings with Senator Nash, to ensure that the system is as user-friendly for industry as possible. Health groups have agreed that additional information can go on the package such as the Heart Foundation Tick or the industry's own Daily Intake Guide. Modification of the graphic to make it easier to use on a range of packets has also been agreed.

As Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) and a member of the Project Committee, pointed out in a public statement: "Recent figures show that poor diet is now the greatest risk for the burden of death and disease in Australia, followed by overweight and obesity. Now is the time to prioritise empowering Australians with readily understandable information which enables them to cut through the marketing spin and make informed, healthy food choices.

"The website is expected to be reinstated in the next few of weeks, allowing industry to calculate how many stars are appropriate for any food and providing guidance on the most consistent and effective way to use the system.  There will be an evaluation in two years and without widespread adoption the system will become mandatory in five years."