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Health star labels help fight obesity



Helping New Zealanders fight obesity by making it easier to shop healthier is the motivation behind a new video on the Health Star Rating system released this week by the NZ Food and Grocery Council.

The video is the final in a series, written and presented by dietitian and Registered Nutritionist Nikki Hart, which tackles food subjects people are often confused about: what to eat for breakfast, fad diets, processed foods, and how to use the new Health Star Rating (HSR) system.

In the latest video, Ms Hart says that given the wide range of similar products available, choosing the best options from packaged and prepared foods can be difficult.

“Most of us know that fruits and vegetables are healthy choices and we should consume at least five servings a day. The HSR helps shoppers choose more of the healthier packaged products within the category.”

FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich says the video series is one of the many ways the food industry is working to help reduce obesity rates by making healthier choices easier. “The industry has taken on board the challenge by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman for it to improve public information and resources as part of the Government’s ‘Childhood Obesity Plan’, and this video is part of our commitment to that pledge.

Thousands of products in New Zealand and Australia now have the health stars on the front of their labels and more will be launched this year.”

The main learnings from the video are:

· The HSR measures the overall nutritional content and healthiness of the food product. The more stars, the healthier the product.

· Products lower in saturated fat, sugar or salt, and higher in fibre, protein, nuts, fruit and vegetables get a higher star rating.

· Consumers should only compare foods within a category rather than comparing different types of foods because the HSR for one type of food is calculated differently to the star rating for another type of food.

· They should always look at the recommended serving size before consuming a product.

· Having a shopping trolley full of high star ranked items might sound good, but it can miss the important food groups like fruit, vegetables and meat.

Ms Hart says food literacy begins in childhood and continues throughout our lives. “Because our lifestyles, including the way we eat, have changed so much over the past few decades, the biggest challenge is often knowing what a healthy diet looks like.

“I want people to see that healthy eating can be easy, and that there are no good or bad foods. It’s about how often and how much we eat of different foods, and choosing the lower fat, lower salt and lower sugar versions when we can. The videos show simple and practical advice to build food literacy.”

Katherine Rich says food literacy is vital to enable consumers to choose, prepare, and consume a healthy diet. Healthy-eating information can be confusing and contradictory, given the many sources of different information.

“With the rise in social media anyone can claim to be an expert or become so popular or appealing that people do what they say. But often these ‘experts’ do not have the right knowledge base to give that advice, or it’s based on personal experience rather than sound science. This video and the three released last year allow people to hear directly from an appropriately trained nutrition professional.”

She says the industry has embraced the HSR system and many products have been reformulated, making packaged food healthier, resulting in a healthier New Zealand.

“FGC believes that to successfully beat obesity, every sector of society needs to adopt a culture of healthy eating and activity.”

The videos are based on the Ministry of Health National food and Nutrition Guidelines, so the information is consistent with what New Zealand-trained food and nutrition experts advise.

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