Research Shows ‘Guiding Stars’’ Impact on Healthier Food Purchases

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that pioneering nutrition navigation system “Guiding Stars” had a positive influence on food-purchasing decisions following implementation of program, and that these changes continue to be significant in making more nutritious food choices in the supermarket.

The study was conducted by a group of scientists led by Lisa Sutherland, Ph.D of Dartmouth College, along with Leslie Fischer, Ph.D of the University of North Carolina and Lori Kaley of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School, all of whom were Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel members at the time the research was performed. The study, “Guiding Stars: The effect of a nutrition navigation program on consumer purchases at the supermarket,” looked at the effects of the system on consumer food and beverage selections.

“With increasing rates of chronic diseases and poor diet quality in the United States, we were pleased to find the Guiding Stars program was associated with significant positive changes in consumer-purchasing behavior,” noted Sutherland, the lead author of the study. “The choices consumers make in the supermarket can have a direct effect on their health and wellness, and we found that after the Guiding Stars nutrition rating system was implemented, the overall purchasing of foods with stars, or those rated the most nutritious, significantly increased. With time as a considerable barrier for many Americans when shopping, we believe that the program makes it easier for consumers to quickly identify the more nutritious options in the supermarket.”

Added Betts FitzGerald, managing director of Scarborough, Maine-based Guiding Stars Licensing Co., “The design of the Guiding Stars program provides a significant opportunity to impact not only the health of individuals, but public health as well.”

Guiding Stars rates all edible products in the store, employing an evidence-based algorithm grounded in the most current dietary guidelines and recommendations of such organizations as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Health & Human Services, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization. The more nutritional value a food has, the more stars it receives on a scale of zero to three.

The study authors used purchasing data from 2006 to 2008 obtained from Hannaford Supermarkets, which was the first chain to roll out the program. The researchers examined the data before Guiding Stars was introduced and one and two years after it rolled out. To understand the program’s effect on specific grocery categories, ready-to-eat cereal was examined as a case study. Study findings revealed that the purchasing of star-rated cereals significantly grew one year on and kept increasing two years later.

“Although we did not measure individual diet, the purchasing of low-sugar, high-fiber cereals increased greatly after program implementation,” said Sutherland. “This finding is of particular importance to our understanding the potential impact of such programs on consumer diet.”
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