The Health Star Rating (HSR) system, which rates foods from half-a-star to five stars based on nutritional value, was approved by the Federal and State Ministers in June 2013 and has been implemented since June 2014 on a voluntary basis by the food industry. Interestingly, the system is at odds with the Australian Dietary Guidelines in the exclusion of whole grains from the algorithm.
Currently, the nutritional value of a large number of whole grain foods is not accurately reflected in the HSR system due to the exclusion of whole grain from the algorithm to calculate the number of stars. In consultation with manufacturers, GLNC conducted an assessment of 285 grain-based foods on shelf in 2015 – 2016 which shows that the crude inclusion of whole grain in the HSR system algorithm would affect at least 76 products across a variety of categories. This represents one quarter of all grain foods assessed.
One argument against the inclusion of whole grain in the calculation of HSR ‘V’ points is that fibre may be considered a proxy measure for whole grain. However, the assessment of the number of products affected by the addition of whole grain to the calculation indicates this is not always true.
GLNC understands that altering the algorithm to include whole grain may be more complex than the crude addition of a point. However, we believe the magnitude of the potential public health benefit warrants consideration of a change to the algorithm.
Only 30% of the grain food intake of Australian adults is whole grain, well short of the 66% recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines. By recognizing whole grain in the HSR system, this will encourage people to choose foods higher in whole grain more often which will promote increased whole grain consumption, reducing risk of chronic disease.
Adding whole grain to the HSR algorithm may encourage the development of foods with higher whole grain content. This is a positive change for the food supply. Currently, whole grain is used predominantly in core grain foods such as breakfast cereals and bread, but in a very limited capacity in discretionary foods such as biscuits. Any proposed change to the algorithm would need to assess the potential effect on the HSR of discretionary foods. However, it is unlikely large quantities of whole grain would be added to discretionary foods for reasons of increasing HSR status only as this raises functional issues. Manufacturers have found adding large quantities of the bran and germ content of whole grain wheat can have a detrimental effect on product quality and acceptability.
As the HSR system evolves, consideration should be given to the significant public health benefit of potentially changing the algorithm to include whole grain.