” The Health Star Rating System has been marred by anomalies. Milo powder (44% sugar) increased its basic 1.5 Stars to 4.5 by assuming it will be added to skim milk. About one in every seven products bearing health stars goes against the Department of Health’s own recommendations.
Those of us working in public health question why obvious junk foods get any stars at all.”
See Sugar, sugar everywhere MJA insight article in full Part 3 below
” In 2012-13, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2 years and over consumed an average of 75 grams of free sugars per day (equivalent to 18 teaspoons of white sugar)1. Added sugars made up the majority of free sugar intakes with an average of 68 grams (or 16 teaspoons) consumed and an additional 7 grams of free sugars came from honey and fruit juice. “
ABS Report abs-indigenous-consumption-of-added-sugars
See Part 1 below for Aboriginal sugar facts
The Health Star Rating (HSR) Advisory Committee (HSRAC), responsible for overseeing the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the HSR system is undertaking a five year review of the HSR system.
The five year review of the system is well underway, with a public submission process opening on 8 June 2017 on the Australian Department of Health’s online Consultation Hub.
Since the consultation period has been opened there has been strong interest in the system from stakeholders representing a diverse range of views.
To ensure that as much evidence as possible is captured, along with stakeholders’ views on the system, a further two week extension to the consultation period has been agreed and it will now close on 17 August 2017
See full survey details Part 2 Below
Part 1 Aboriginal sugar facts
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consume around 14 per cent of their total energy intake as free sugars, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that free sugars contribute less than 10 per cent of total energy intake.
Director of Health, Louise Gates, said the new ABS report showed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are consuming an average of 18 teaspoons (or 75 grams) of free sugars per day (almost two cans of soft drink), four teaspoons more than non-Indigenous people (14 teaspoons or 60 grams).
OTHER KEY FINDINGS
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people derived an average of 14% of their daily energy from free sugars, exceeding the WHO recommendation that children and adults should limit their intake of free sugars to less than 10% of dietary energy.
- Free sugars made the greatest contribution to energy intakes among older children and young adults. For example, teenage boys aged 14-18 years derived 18 per cent of their dietary energy from free sugars as they consumed the equivalent of 25 teaspoons (106 grams) of free sugars per day. This amount is equivalent to more than two and a half cans of soft drink. Women aged 19-30 years consumed 21 teaspoons (87 grams) of free sugars, which contributed 17 per cent to their total energy intake.
- The majority (87%) of free sugars were consumed from energy dense, nutrient-poor ‘discretionary’ foods and beverages. Two thirds (67%) of all free sugars consumed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people came from beverages, led by soft drinks, sports and energy drinks (28%), followed by fruit and vegetable juices and drinks (12%), cordials (9.5%), and sugars added to beverages such as tea and coffee (9.4%), alcoholic beverages (4.9%) and milk beverages (3.4%).
- Intakes were higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in non-remote areas where the average consumption was 78 grams (18.5 teaspoons), around 3 teaspoons (12 grams) higher than people living in remote areas (65 grams or 15.5 teaspoons).
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consumed 15 grams (almost 4 teaspoons) more free sugars on average than non-Indigenous people. Beverages were the most common source of free sugars for both populations, however Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people derived a higher proportion of free sugars from beverages than non-Indigenous people (67% compared with 51%).
Part 2 @healthgovau Health Star Rating System review closes 17 August
The Health Star Rating (HSR) Advisory Committee (HSRAC), responsible for overseeing the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the HSR system, is undertaking a five year review of the HSR system. The HSR system is a front-of-pack labelling (FoPL) scheme intended to assist consumers in making healthier diet choices. The findings of the review will be provided to the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (Forum) in mid‑2019.
In parallel with this consultation on the HSR system five year review, the HSRAC is conducting a dedicated investigation of issues and concerns raised about the form of the food (‘as prepared’) rules in the Guide for Industry to the HSR Calculator. These enable additional nutrients to be taken into account when calculating star ratings based on foods prepared according to on-label directions. A specific consultation process seeking input into this investigation opened on 19 May 2017 and will close at 11.59 pm 30 June 2017. The form of the food (‘as prepared’) consultation can be viewed on the Australian Department of Health’s Consultation Hub.
The HSR system
The HSR system is a public health and consumer choice intervention designed to encourage people to make healthier dietary choices. The HSR system is a voluntary FoPL scheme that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from ½ a star to 5 stars. It is not a system that defines what a ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ food is, but rather provides a quick, standardised way to compare similar packaged foods at retail level. The more stars, the healthier the choice. The HSR system is not a complete solution to assist consumers with choosing foods in line with dietary guidelines, but should be viewed as a way to assist consumers to make healthier packaged food choices. Other sources of information, such as the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines, also assist consumers in their overall food purchasing decisions.
The HSR system aims to:
1. Enable direct comparison between individual foods that, within the overall diet, may contribute to the risk factors of various diet related chronic diseases;
2. Be readily understandable and meaningful across socio-economic groups, culturally and linguistically diverse groups and low literacy/low numeracy groups; and
3. Increase awareness of foods that, within the overall diet, may contribute positively or negatively to the risk factors of diet related chronic diseases.
The HSR system consists of the graphics, including the words ‘Health Star Rating’, the rules identified in the HSR system Style Guide, the algorithm and methodology for calculating the HSR identified in the Guide for Industry to the HSR Calculator, and the education and marketing associated with the HSR implementation.
The HSR system is a joint Australian, state and territory and New Zealand government initiative developed in collaboration with industry, public health and consumer groups. The system is funded by the Australian government, the New Zealand government and all Australian jurisdictions during the initial five year implementation period.
From June 2014, food manufacturers started to apply HSRs to the front of food product packaging. Further information on the HSR system is available on the HSR website. The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) website also provides information on the HSR system in New Zealand.
Purpose and scope of the review
The five year review of the HSR system will consider if, and how well, the objectives of the HSR system have been met, and identify options for improvements to and ongoing implementation of the system (Terms of reference for the five year review).
With a focus on processed packaged foods, the objective of the HSR system is:
To provide convenient, relevant and readily understood nutrition information and /or guidance on food packs to assist consumers to make informed food purchases and healthier eating choices.
The HSRAC has agreed that the areas of communication, system enhancements, and monitoring and governance will be considered when identifying whether the objectives of the HSR system have been achieved.
Although HSRAC will need to be a part of the review process, a degree of independence is required and independent management and oversight of the review is an important factor to ensure credible and unbiased reporting. An independent consultant will be engaged to undertake the review. Specific detail about the scope of the review will be outlined in the statement of requirement for the independent consultant. A timeline for the five year review of the HSR system has been drafted and will be updated throughout the review.
Next steps in the review process
As part of the five year review, HSRAC is seeking evidence based submissions on the consultation questions provided in this discussion paper.
This consultation is open to the public, state and territory governments, relevant government agencies, industry and public health and consumer groups.
Making a submission
The HSRAC is seeking submissions on the merits of the HSR system, particularly in response to the consultation questions below. The aim of the questions is to assist respondents in providing relevant commentary. However, submissions are not limited to answering the questions provided. Please provide evidence or examples to support comments. Some areas of this review are technical in nature therefore comments on technical issues should be based on scientific evidence and/or supported by research where appropriate. Where possible, please provide citations to published studies or other sources.
While the HSRAC will consider all submissions and proposals put forward, those that are not well supported by evidence are unlikely to be addressed as part of the five year review.
Enquiries specifically relating to this submission process can be made via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please DO NOT provide submissions by email.
- A PDF of the consultation survey is attached for your convenience.
After the consultation period closes the HSRAC will consider the submissions received and will prepare a summary table of the issues raised which will be published on the HSR website. All information within the summary table will be de-identifiable and will not contain any confidential material.
HSRAC will treat information of a confidential nature as such. Please ensure that material supplied in confidence is clearly marked ‘IN CONFIDENCE’ and is provided in a separate attachment to non-confidential material. Information provided in the submissions will only be used for the purpose of the five year review of the HSR system and will not be used for any other purpose without explicit permission.
Part 3 Sugar Sugar MJA Insights
IT’S hard to escape sugar, not only in what we eat and drink, but also in the daily news and views that seep into so many corners of our lives.
There’s nothing new about concern over sugar. I can trace my own fights with the sugar industry back to the 1960s, and since their inception in 1981, the Australian Dietary Guidelines have advised limiting sugary foods and drinks. The current emphasis in many articles in newspapers, magazines, popular books and online blogs, however, go further and recommend eliminating every grain of the stuff from the daily diet.
Taking an academic approach to the topic, the George Institute for Global Health has published data based on the analysis of 34 135 packaged foods currently listed in their Australian FoodSwitch database. They found added sugar in 87% of discretionary food products (known as junk foods in common parlance) and also in 52% of packaged foods that can be described as basic or core foods.
The George Institute’s analysis is particularly pertinent to the Department of Health’s Health Star Rating System, and found that some of the anomalies in the scheme could be eliminated by penalising foods for their content of added sugars rather than using total sugars in the product, as is currently the case.
The definition of “added sugars” used in Australia also needs attention, a topic that has been stressed in the World Health Organization’s guidelines. I will return to this later.
In Australia, the nutrition information panel on the label of packaged foods must include the total sugars present. This includes sugars that have been added (known as extrinsic sugars) as well as any sugars present naturally in ingredients such as milk, fruit or vegetables (intrinsic sugars).
There is no medical evidence to suggest that intrinsic sugars are a problem – at least not if they occur in “intact” ingredients. If you consume fruit, for example, the natural dietary fibre and the bulk of the fruit will limit the amount of the fruit’s intrinsic sugars you consume. However, if the sugar is extracted from the structure of the fruit, it becomes easy to consume much larger quantities. Few people could munch their way through five apples, but if you extract their juice, the drink would let you take in all the sugar and kilojoules of five apples in less than a minute.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines do not include advice to restrict fruit itself because there is high level evidence of its health value. The guidelines do, however, recommend that dried fruit and fruit juice be restricted – the equivalent of four dried apricot halves or 125 mL juice consumed only occasionally.
Contrary to the belief of some bloggers, Australia’s dietary guidelines have never suggested replacing fat with sugar. That was a tactic of some food companies who marketed many “low” or “reduced” fat foods where the fat was replaced with sugars or some kind of refined starch.
The wording of Australia’s guideline on sugar has changed. The initial advice to “avoid too much sugar” led to the sugar industry’s multimillion dollar campaign “Sugar, a natural part of life”. This included distributing “educational” material to the general public, politicians, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and other health professionals discussing the importance of a “balanced diet”.
In spite of fierce lobbying by the sugar industry, the next revision of the guidelines retained a sugar guideline, although it was watered down to “eat only moderate amounts of sugars”. Some school canteen operators reported that they had been confronted by sweet-talking sellers of junk foods omitting the word “only” from this guideline.
The evidence for sugar’s adverse effects on dental health have long been known, but the evidence against sugar and its potential role in obesity and, consequently, in type 2 diabetes and other health problems has grown stronger. The most recent revision of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Dietary Guidelines, therefore, emphasises the need to “limit” added sugars and lists the foods that need particular attention.
Sugary drinks have been specifically targeted because the evidence against them is strong and extends beyond epidemiological studies. Double-blind trials now clearly link sugary drinks with weight gain, the only exceptions being a few trials funded by the food industry.
Added sugar is not the only topic for public health concern, and hence the government’s Health Star Rating System was set up to introduce a simple front-of-pack labelling scheme to assist Australians reduce their intake of saturated fat, salt and sugars from packaged foods.
A specially commissioned independent report (Evaluation of scientific evidence relating to Front of Pack Labelling by Dr Jimmy Chun Yu Louie and Professor Linda Tapsell of the School of Health Sciences, University of Wollongong) found that added sugars were the real problem, but the food industry argued that the scheme should include total sugars because this was already a mandatory inclusion on food labels and routine chemical analysis couldn’t determine the source of sugars.
This was a strange argument since food manufacturers know exactly how much sugar they add to any product, just as they know how many “offset” points the Health Star Rating System allows for the inclusion of fruit, vegetable, nuts or legumes. The content of these ingredients is only disclosed on the food label if used in the product’s name.
The Health Star Rating System has been marred by anomalies. Milo powder (44% sugar) increased its basic 1.5 Stars to 4.5 by assuming it will be added to skim milk. About one in every seven products bearing health stars goes against the Department of Health’s own recommendations.
Those of us working in public health question why obvious junk foods get any stars at all.
How can caramel topping or various types of confectionery, such as strawberry flavoured liquorice, each get 2.5 stars? Why do some chocolates sport 3.5 stars, while worthy products such as Greek yoghurt without any added sugars get 1.5 and a breakfast cereal with 27% sugar gets four stars?
The fact that over a third of Australian’s energy intake comes from discretionary products (40% for children) is the elephant in the room for excess weight. We need to reduce consumption of these products and allotting them health stars is not helping.
It’s clearly time to follow our dietary guidelines and limit both discretionary products and added sugar. Of the nutrients used in the current algorithm for health stars, the George Institute’s analysis shows that counting added rather than total sugars has the greatest individual capacity to discriminate between core and discretionary foods.
However, in moving to mandate added sugars on food labels and using added sugars in health stars, it’s vital to define these sugars. The World Health Organization has done so: “Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”.
Regular sugar in Australia could be described as cane juice concentrate. It has no nutrients other than its carbohydrate. Fruit juice concentrates are also just sugars with no nutrients other than carbohydrates. At present the Health Star Rating System allows products using apple or pear juice concentrate to be counted as “fruit” and used to offset the total sugars. This is nonsense, and gives rise to confectionery, toppings and some breakfast cereals scoring stars they do not deserve.
Other ways to boost health stars also need attention. Food technologists boast they can manipulate foods to gain extra stars (Health Star Rating Stakeholders workshop, Sydney, 4 August 2016). For example, adding wheat, milk, soy or other protein powder, concentrated fruit purees or a laboratory-based source of fibre such as inulin will all give extra “offset” points to reduce adverse points from saturated fat, sugar or salt. Indeed, some food technologists have even suggested they could revert to using the especially nasty trans (but technically unsaturated) fatty acid from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to replace naturally occurring saturated fat.
My alternative is to go for fresh foods and minimise packaged foods. If the stars look too good to be true, check the ingredient list. But remember that Choice found sugar may go by more than 40 different names. Buyer beware!