Lunchbox stars disclosed

CHOICE calculates the Health Star Ratings of popular kids’ foods.
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01.Healthy stars revealed

Healthy stars in kid's lunchboxes revealed

A CHOICE calculation using the Health Star Ratings has found that there are significant differences in the nutritional profile of products found in a typical school kid’s lunchbox. The results show how the front-of-pack labelling system would help parents make healthier choices between products that may seem similar and would benefit consumers if it were rolled out. 

The Health Star Rating scheme was developed by industry, consumer, and public health groups with support from the federal government.

Lunchbox star ratings 

CHOICE compared six items that might be found in a typical lunchbox – the elements of a sandwich, a muesli bar and a milk popper. We used the Health Star Rating calculator which considers the nutritional nasties – saturated fat, sodium, and sugar – as well as energy, protein and fibre. The calculator also looks at the percentage of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes in the product. 

When it came to the sandwich, we looked at two Tip Top breads, finding the 9 Grain Wholemeal scored 4.5 stars while the white Sunblest Sandwich got 3.5 stars. We looked at two different spreads, with the popular Meadow Lea original coming in at three stars while Western Star’s Spreadable Original bottomed out at half a star. 

We found considerable variation in the sliced ham options, with Primo’s Salt Reduced Light Ham scoring  four stars while the regular English Leg Ham only got two stars. Bega’s cheese slices showed even more variation, with Farmer’s Tasty scoring just 1.5 stars while the Country Light Tasty managed four stars. 

Muesli bars are a popular lunchbox addition, whether offered as a  treat or more regularly. While a lot of the bars like Uncle Tobys Chewy Apricot Muesli Bars only managed three stars or less, Freedom Foods’ Free Oats product scored  four stars. 

Finally, we looked at milk poppers. The Health Star Rating calculator gave Devondale’s Our Lightest One Skim Milk poppers a big 4.5 stars, while its Moo Chocolate Milk got three stars.  

What do the ratings mean for parents? 

CHOICE’s campaigns manager Angela Cartwright said these ratings would help busy parents looking for healthier options for their kids. “It can be really hard for busy mums and dads rushing to get the weekly shop done to cut through the spin and find out which products really are healthy,” Ms Cartwright said, “We know that many consumers no longer trust health marketing claims like "97% fat free" and the Health Star Rating will provide an objective snapshot of products that shoppers can understand, at-a-glance.” 

Ms Cartwright believes the ratings will act as a cue for parents to consider the nutrient information on-pack, saying “While some of products we compared may only vary by one star, this can mean a significant difference in fibre or sugar content, so the Health Star Ratings signals that parents might want to look a little closer when deciding what to buy.” 

How did CHOICE rate the products? 

CHOICE used the Health Star Rating Calculator to determine the number of stars for products. The Health Star Rating scheme was developed by industry, consumer, and public health groups with support from government. The calculator that determines the ratings has been widely tested by food companies and finetune to ensure that nasties like saturated fat, sugar and sodium are accounted for. It also awards extra points for fibre, protein and the presence of fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes in the ingredients.

What CHOICE wants

The Health Star Rating scheme is expected to be rolled out from July 2014. However, it will be up to each food company whether it decides to implement the labelling and there have been doubts raised over the industry’s commitment to the scheme. 

CHOICE believes that effective front-of-pack labelling is long overdue and we want to see food companies get on board with the Health Star Rating scheme and give consumers information we can use at-a-glance to make healthier choices.

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