Health Star Rating scheme

The Health Star Rating scheme (HSR) is a voluntary front-of-pack labelling system designed for packaged foods. Products are rated on a scale from ½ to 5 stars, with the concept of the more stars, the healthier the product.1 The HSR can appear on products in two ways; a star rating or a star rating plus additional nutrient information (see below).


Images sourced from the Health Star Rating System Style Guide.

Development of the Health Star Rating scheme

The system was developed by the Australian Government together with industry, public health and consumer groups and is based on an algorithm which rates the ‘healthiness’ of a food. Baseline or negative points are assigned to foods based on their kilojoule, saturated fat, sodium and total sugar content. Points are also awarded for ‘good’ nutrients in the product including fruit and vegetable content, protein, fibre, nuts and legumes and a calculator produces a final score and assigns a star rating based on these factors.  

Using the Health Star Rating scheme and the Australian Dietary Guidelines

Experts agree the system can be useful when comparing products across the same category, for example two breakfast cereals in terms of their sugar content. However, consumers are likely to use the system across categories meaning a consumer could compare frozen potato chips (4 stars) to Greek-style yoghurt (only 1–1½ stars), with the incorrect conclusion that the product with the higher star rating is healthier.

In addition, the HSR was designed for processed packaged foods, meaning fresh foods tend not to adopt the rating system. This may lead consumers to think packaged foods are nutritionally better than fresh foods. The ratings may also encourage individuals to focus solely on nutrients, as opposed to the entire food matrix.

Due to these factors, the scheme is not always consistent with the recommendations outlined in Australian Dietary Guidelines. For example, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that people enjoy a ‘wide variety of nutritious foods’ from the five food groups and limit intake of ‘junk foods’– foods and drinks that are low in nutrients such as cakes, confectionery, pastries, biscuits and soft drinks. Unfortunately, some ‘junk’ foods are able to display more stars than some healthy, nutritious foods.

While the HSR may guide better choices in some cases, the best way to make healthy choices is to encourage consumption of the five food groups as outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines and in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

This article provides a perspective on the Health Star Rating scheme from leading nutrition experts.

Nutrition content and health claims

Nutrition content and health claims are statements made by manufacturers on their food products which are regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Nutrition content claims include those such as ‘low fat’ or ‘good source of calcium’. Food or beverages must meet certain criteria to make these claims, for example a product labelled as ‘a good source of fibre’ must contain at least 4g of fibre per serve.2

Health claims differ to nutrition content claims in that they refer to a relationship between food and health, as opposed to a statement about content. There are two types of heath claims:

  • General level health claims which refer to a nutrient and effect on health (i.e. calcium is good for strong bones and teeth); and

  • High-level health claims which refer to a nutrient and serious disease, or biomarker of a serious disease (i.e. a diet high in calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis).

All health claims must be supported by scientific evidence and meet the nutrient profiling scoring criterion (NPSC), however high level health claims must be based on a FSANZ pre-approved food-health relationship.

As of 18 January 2016 a new standard (Standard 1.2.7) regulating all claims on foods was introduced, meaning all food businesses must comply with these regulations by law. The purpose of this standard is to reduce the risk of misleading claims and expand the range of permitted health claims.

1 Commonwealth of Australia. Health Star Rating System. About Health Star Ratings [Internet]. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2014. Available:

2 Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Nutrition content and health claims [Internet]. FSANZ, Barton, 2015. Available: