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Star labelling system gets consumers’ tick of approval

Media release

Curtin University researchers have examined consumers’ food labelling preferences, finding the Health Star Rating (HSR) as the clear favourite among both adults and children due to its user-friendly nature.

The aim of the study was to investigate Australian consumers’ preferences between three front-of-pack-labelling schemes (FoPLs) – Daily Intake Guide (DIG), multiple traffic light (MTL) and HSR – to provide new insights into optimal methods of presenting nutrition information on the front of food packets.

Professor Simone Pettigrew, from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, said nearly half of the respondents (44 per cent) preferred the HSR, with just one in five people favouring the DIG.

“This finding was consistent across the gender, age, socioeconomic status and Body Mass Index subgroups included in the study,” Professor Pettigrew said.

“Interestingly, children exhibited an even stronger preference for the HSR, which came at lower preference for the DIG.

“The inclusion of children in the study reflects their critical importance as both consumers and purchasers of food products, as well as powerful influencers on their parents’ food purchase decisions.”

For the study, 2,058 Australian consumers (1,558 adults and 500 children aged from 10 to 17 years) from low and mid-to-high socioeconomic backgrounds completed an online survey asking them to report on which FoPL they preferred and the reasons why.

“The reasons most commonly provided by respondents to explain their preference related to ease of use, interpretative content and visual prominence,” Professor Pettigrew said.

“When they were asked to rate the healthiness of a range of mock products featuring the different FoPLs, respondents made more accurate assessments when the HSR was used.”

Professor Pettigrew said the results highlighted the importance of ensuring FoPLs were easy to use, highly interpretive in nature and visually striking.

“Simplified nutrition labelling on the front of food packaging has the potential to effectively inform consumers of the healthiness of food products and assist them in making more informed food choices,” Professor Pettigrew said.

“The findings suggest that a simple-to-use, interpretive, star-based food label represents a population-based nutrition promotion strategy that is considered helpful by a broad range of consumers.”

The paper, titled The Types and aspects of front-of-pack food labelling schemes preferred by adults and children, was published in the Appetite journal, and can be accessed here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666316308340.

Further results are available from a second paper titled Do Health Claims and Front-of-Pack Labels Lead to a Positivity Bias in Unhealthy Foods? published in the journal Nutrients, available at http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/12/787/htm.