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  • Writer's pictureSasha Borissenko

EPISODE 8: 99% fat free

Are all food choices made equal? In episode eight of Chewing the Facts Sasha Borissenko tackles the art of food advertising and Aotearoa’s voluntary health star rating system

These days you won’t find a health star rating on that old Kiwi favourite, Milo.

It’s a big change from 2016 when powdered Milo made headlines for its 4.5 star-rating, which was calculated to include skim milk, even though the powder itself was almost 50 per cent sugar.

But it’s not unusual - only 21 per cent of products displayed the voluntary health star rating in 2019, suggesting the system is struggling to give consumers meaningful information about the products they’re buying.

National Party health spokesperson Shane Reti said this month that he’s keen on ditching the five-star rating system and it has emerged that the Ministry of Health is considering a different tack, with proposed compulsory limits to the amount of sugar and salt in processed foods.

The confusion extends to Nestle’s Milo Cereal, which boasts a Health Star Rating of 4 stars online but only 3.5 stars in Lambton Quay’s Wellington New World.

A Nestle spokesperson explained the product had been reformulated to double the amount of whole-grain and fibre content. Sugar had been reduced by more than 12 per cent.

The roll-out of the new products would explain the discrepancy, the spokesperson said.

Introduced in 2014, the food labelling system uses a rating scale of 0.5 to 5 stars, with the more stars the better. Labels detail the levels of energy, saturated fat, sugars, sodium, and nutrients of packaged products.

Ministry for Primary Industries food safety deputy director general Vincent Arbuckle said no system is perfect.

“Whether a compulsory scheme would [create] change, faster - I don’t know. I see responsible businesses adopting it because they know that consumers don’t want to consume things that are unhealthy.

“Long term, it’s not good business for them to hide large amounts of sugar or large amounts of salt in a formulated product.”

The aim is for 70 per cent of products to display the system by 2025.

Consumer NZ food label specialist Belinda Castles told Chewing the Facts that the voluntary nature of the system gives food companies the opportunity to cherry-pick their healthier products.

“Some companies are great and put them on all their products, but others won’t put them on their 0.5 or one-star product because that’s obviously not going to make it look attractive to consumers.”

Even with the 70 per cent target by 2025, it means 30 per cent of products will be left by the wayside, she said.

“There’s a real issue with it not being a level playing field and not making it easy for consumers to see the difference in the products on the shelves.”

Mexico, Uruguay, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Israel, Iran, Sri Lanka, and Thailand all have mandatory interpretative food labelling systems.

This year, the World Health Organisation released its Global Report on Sodium Intake Reduction by ranking countries on a scale of one to four to describe progress in implementing policies.

New Zealand was given a score of two, with higher rankings prevalent among countries with mandatory labelling systems.

Former health associate minister Barbara Edmonds told Chewing the Facts there may be some improvements made to the system but the advice is still up for consideration.

“The government intervenes at a certain point when there’s a market failure.”

Until then, prudent ministers are tasked with keeping a watching brief on progress, she said.

Chewing the Facts - new episodes out every Sunday. Produced with the NZ Herald, with support from NZ On Air. Show notes are available via

You can follow the podcast at iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

This article was originally published via the NZHerald here.


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- Do health claims and front-of-pack labels lead to a positivity bias in unhealthy foods?

- Consumers' responses to health claims in the context of other on-pack nutrition information: a systematic review

- “It’s All Just Marketing”, a qualitative analysis of consumer perceptions and understandings of nutrition content and health claims in New Zealand

- Justification effects on consumer choice of hedonic and utilitarian goods

- Consumer generalization of nutrient content claims in advertising

- Can 'low fat' nutrition labels lead to obesity?

- Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers

- Food Act 2014

- Fair Trading Act 1986

- Nutrient warning labels

- Adoption of front-of-pack nutrition warnings can help decrease obesity, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers in the Americas

- An 18-country analysis of the effectiveness of five front-of-pack nutrition labels

- Front-of-pack nutrition labelling of foods and beverages

- Bad Taste Food Awards 2016

- Health star ratings

- Analysing the use of the Australian Health Star Rating system by level of food processing

- Fallen stars: most of our packaged food is ultra-processed, unhealthy

- Health Star Rating New Consumer Research

- Effect of voluntary Health Star Rating labels on healthier food purchasing in New Zealand: longitudinal evidence using representative household purchase data

- Effects of a voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling system on packaged food reformulation: The Health Star Rating system in New Zealand

- Does the Australian Health Star Rating system encourage added sugar reformulation? trends in sweetener use in Australia

- Food Industry Taskforce on addressing factors contributing to obesity

- Critical analysis of the Food Industry Taskforce on addressing factors contributing to obesity recommendations and the Government’s response

- Market study into the grocery sector

- Independent review of the Food Grocery Code of Conduct 2018

- Influence of unhealthy food and beverage marketing on children's dietary intake and preference: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials

- Food marketing influences children’s attitudes, preferences and consumption: A systematic critical review

- How do vested interests maintain outdated policy? The case of food marketing to New Zealand children

- Report of the APA Task Force on advertising and children

- Food marketing in other countries

- Nestlé document says majority of its food portfolio is unhealthy

- The impact of junk food marketing regulations on food sales: an ecological study

- Advertising to children initiatives have not reduced unhealthy food advertising on Australian television

- Food marketing to children and youth: Threat or opportunity?

- Health halos: How nutrition claims influence food consumption for overweight and normal weight people

- The Impact of nutrition and health claims on consumer perceptions and portion size selection: Results from a nationally representative survey

- Restricting child-directed ads is effective, but adding a time-based ban is better: evaluating a multi-phase regulation to protect children from unhealthy food marketing on television

- Short guide for industry to the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion in Standard 1.2.7 – Nutrition, health and related Claims

- Food myths or food facts? Study about perceptions and knowledge in a Portuguese sample

- Statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health on the adoption of front-of-package warning labelling to tackle NCDs

- Self-regulation and the response to concerns about food and beverage marketing to children in the United States

- Vested interests in addiction research and policy poisonous partnerships: health sector buy-in to arrangements with government and addictive consumption industries

- Review of research On the effects of food promotion to children

- Does advertising literacy mediate the effects of advertising on children? A critical examination of two linked research literatures in relation to obesity and food choice

- Effect of voluntary Health Star Rating labels on healthier food purchasing in New Zealand: longitudinal evidence using representative household purchase data

- Health Star Ratings and beverage purchase intentions: A study of Australian and New Zealand hospitality consumers - The ability of five different front-of-pack labels to assist Australian consumers to identify healthy versus unhealthy foods

- ConsumerNZ: Health star ratings

- ConsumerNZ: Health star ratings - changes not enough

- Revision process for Canada's food guide

- Canada's food guide: Food guide snapshot

- Advertising regulation in the 1980s: The underlying global forces

- Health Star Rating industry kit

- Evaluation of alignment between the health claims nutrient profiling scoring criterion (NPSC) and the Health Star Rating (HSR) nutrient profiling models

- Buy what is advertised on television? Evidence from bans on child-directed food advertising

- Food advertisements: To ban or not to ban?

- Dusting off Foresight’s obesity report

- Comparing complex perspectives on obesity drivers: Action‐driven communities and evidence‐oriented experts

- Analysis of stakeholders’ responses to the food warning labels regulation in Mexico

- Development of the Chilean front-of-package food warning label

- Energy contribution of NOVA food groups and sociodemographic determinants of ultra-processed food consumption in the Mexican population

- The role of sugar-sweetened beverages in the global epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases

- Front-of-pack nutrition labels: An equitable public health intervention

- Health Star Rating system five year review report 2019

- Hungry for change: The law and policy of food health labeling

- Health star rating to be removed from Milo powder

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