Labeling food packages on the front was observed to be easier to understand and facilitate healthier choices than other labels, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology scientific session.
 
Food labeling is important, because it shows consumers what is in their food, and how it compares with the recommended daily intake guidelines, the study authors noted. However, the labeling can at times get confusing, and may lead consumers to believe that a product is healthier than it actually is.
 
The Health Star Rating System was implemented by the Australian government in 2015 to improve their food labeling methods. This requires that packaged food display a scoring system of 1 to 5 stars, and also lists calories, saturated fat, sugars, and sodium.
 
Included in the study were 1578 participants who were randomized to receive 1 of 4 different types of front-of-pack labeling systems to determine if product-labeling impacted healthier food purchasing choices over a 1-month period of time.
 
Some participants were assigned the Health Star Rating System, which includes multi-colored labels, daily intake guidelines, and warnings, while the control group was assigned the standard nutritional information panel. Other participants received 2 other types of labels. The investigators reported that participants scanned bar codes while shopping to access label information.
 
The primary study endpoint was healthier food choices, as defined by the mean transformed nutrient profile score, according to the study. 
 
Over 1 month, the participants purchased more than 200,000 food items. The authors discovered that the mean healthiness of the participants using the Health Star Rating System was non-inferior to the other rating systems.
 
While there were no differences observed between Health Star Rating and traffic light labels, or daily intake guides, the inclusion of warning labels resulted in healthier food purchases compared with control participants, according to the study.
 
The authors reported that the Health Star Rating was found to be easier to understand and more useful than other rating systems. Along with traffic light labels, Health Star Ratings were easier to understand than the nutrient panel.
 
These findings support the Australian government’s initiative that uses the Health Star Rating are the preferred labeling system, according to the study. The authors suggest that the addition of warning and recommendation labels could lead to even healthier food choices, the study concluded.