A study testing the impact of New Zealand's health star ratings on packaged foods is being granted $5million.

The University of Auckland research, led by Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu, was one of five research projects from around the country to receive a portion of the Health Research Council's $25 million grant for long-term programmes.

The three-year study will measure how effective the labels have been in improving New Zealanders' diet.

Ni Mhurchu's team has been collecting information on composition, labelling and ingredients of packaged foods in New Zealand for the past five years.


This study will link that information with Nielsen's household food purchasing data to look at how consumption has changed with the health star ratings and what foods industry has changed to provide a better diet.

She said there had been an increasing preference by government for non-regulatory approaches to improve diet but there wasn't a lot of evidence that voluntary strategies were effective.

"With this research, we'll be able to inform the debate very effectively."

With a team of leading nutrition researchers from New Zealand and Australia, Ni Mhurchu will also look at strategies to support healthier diets across four different domains: at an individual level, government level, food industry level and public health level.

Ni Mhurchu's research has already been used to power smartphone apps like FoodSwitch, which support people in making healthier food choices.

The health star labelling system that rates the content of packaged food in half-star increments has been used in New Zealand and Australia since 2014.

2018 HRC programme grants – full list
Associate Professor Rebecca Campbell, University of Otago, Dunedin
Untangling PCOS: Understanding androgen excess and the female brain
60 months, $4,999,604

Professor Jackie Cumming, Victoria University of Wellington
Enhancing primary health care services to improve health in Aotearoa/New Zealand
60 months, $4,779,445


Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu, The University of Auckland
Dietary Interventions: Evidence & Translation (DIET) programme
60 months, $4,879,689

Associate Professor Gregory O'Grady, The University of Auckland
Translational advances in gastrointestinal surgical recovery and motility disorders
60 months, $4,953,846

Professor Peter Shepherd, The University of Auckland
Understanding genetic risk factors for metabolic disease in Maori and Pacific
60 months, $4,997,081