Researchers have investigated how consumers react to the Health Star Rating and how it compares to other nutrition labels. In 10 focus groups, adults and children (10+ years) were shown fictional food products featuring the Health Star Rating, the Daily Intake Guide (which has been used on Australian foods for the last decade) or the Multiple Traffic Lights (which is currently being used in the UK). The participants discussed their thoughts about the nutrition labels and how they would use them when shopping.
Most of the participants nominated the Health Star Rating as their favourite of the three labels shown. Even though almost all of the participants had not seen the Health Star Rating at the time of the focus groups, both the adults and the children immediately understood how it worked and many said they were likely to use it in the future to help them select foods.
One aspect of the Health Star Rating that sets it apart from other nutrition labels is that the stars provide an overall summary of product healthiness. The focus group participants believed this made it easier to quickly compare several foods at once, and they liked the idea of being able to set a threshold to assist their decision making (e.g., “nothing under 3 stars”).
In contrast, the Daily Intake Guide and the Traffic Lights only provide information about specific nutrients within a product (like fat, sugar and salt). Participants found it difficult and time consuming to combine this information to assess the overall healthiness of a product. In particular, they reported that the focus on individual nutrients makes it difficult to quickly assess multiple products at once to choose between them. This is important in busy supermarkets where shoppers need to make a large number of decisions in a short period of time.
This study is the first to seek the views of both adults and children. It is important to include children in such research because compared to even just one generation ago they have greater influence on their parents’ purchasing habits, have greater disposable income, and are at greater risk of developing obesity.
The results showed that like adults, children also preferred the stars because of the ease and speed with which they could assess the overall healthiness of the products.
For more information on this study, please contact Dr Zenobia Talati, Curtin University, firstname.lastname@example.org.