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October 24, 2013

Study: Gold star nutrition ratings appear to work

PORTLAND —

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A nutritional rating system using gold stars affixed to price labels on grocery store shelves appears to have shifted buying habits, potentially providing another tool to educate consumers on how to eat healthier, according to a new study.

The independent study examining a proprietary gold star system used in Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets suggested it steered shoppers away from items with no stars toward healthier foods that merited gold stars.

"Our results suggest that point-of-sale nutrition information programs may be effective in providing easy-to-find nutrition information that is otherwise nonexistent, difficult to obtain or difficult to understand," the researchers wrote in the study, published last week in the journal Food Policy.

It's the most rigorous scientific study focusing on Guiding Stars, which was instituted in 2006 in Hannaford stores and is now licensed for use in more than 1,800 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the University of Florida focused on the cereal aisle, where it can be challenging to make healthy choices amid conflicting health claims and a multitude of sugary offerings targeting children.

They compared data from 134 Hannaford grocery stores in the Northeast against an equal number of similar stores and found that sales of no-star cereals dropped 2.58 percent more at Hannaford stores compared with the control group, while cereals getting one, two or three stars at Hannaford saw modest but measurable gains of 0.5 percent to1 percent during the first 20 months of the program.

"Although the percentages are small, if you think in terms of the actual quantities or boxes of cereal sold in the national market, this could have some important implications on the nation's health," said Jordan Lin, an author of the study and scientist at the FDA.

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