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NSW Healthy Eating and Active Living Strategy

NSW Health has a Healthy Eating Active Living 2013-2018 strategy. One of the core aims of this Strategy is to create environments that support healthy eating and active living, including the provision of healthy food and drinks in schools, and for staff and visitors in hospitals. New policies and tools have been developed to help schools and hospitals to do this. They are based on a simple food and drink benchmark that guides the type of foods and drinks available and how they are promoted.  NSW Health says they want to make healthy food normal in these settings, aligning with their public education campaign Make Healthy Normal.  While the criteria does vary slightly between schools and hospitals to reflect age differences, the shared key elements are as follows:

  • Consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Australians, foods and drinks are classified as either Everyday or Occasional (the old traffic light system has been superseded)
  • Everyday foods must make up at least 75% of the menu, and Occasional foods and drinks no more than 25% of the menu
  • The Health Star Rating (HSR) System is used to identify healthier options for some foods.
  • In some Occasional foods and drinks the portion size is limited.
  • Sugary drinks with no nutritional value are to be removed and replaced with healthier options.

NSW Healthy Active LIving.png

Graphic from Framework document available at http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/heal/Publications/hfd-framework.pdf

No more sugary drinks
Perhaps the biggest change for hospitals is the removal of sugary drinks from sale, and encouraging water and healthier options including water, plain and flavoured milk, 99% fruit juice, smoothies/milkshakes, diet drinks and tea/coffee.

Seeing stars
A significant development in both the school and hospital guidelines is the use of the HSR system now used on packaged products (see our previous story on the HSR here). Some Occasional and Everyday packaged foods are required to score 3.5 health stars or above, and this is used to identify healthier choices.

Portion sizes
While the HSR can guide healthier choices, it doesn’t take into account portion size. In addition, some Occasional foods are permitted (albeit they can’t constitute more than 25% of the menu) so some foods and drinks do have portion limits. A visual portion guide is available to help show suitable portions without the use of weighing scales.

Examples of foods and their maximum portion size

Flavoured milk






Salty snacks    


Healthy food in schools
Occasional foods and drinks that do not meet the Benchmark because they have a Health Star Rating of less than 3.5 or a portion size larger than the maximum portion size should not be sold in your school canteen”.

In practice, this means that some products such as confectionary and cakes are not able to be sold because most have a Health Star Rating of less than 3.5.

Sugary drinks are not permitted to be sold, and in contrast to the adult guidelines for health facilities, ‘diet’ (artificially sweetened) drinks must be limited to 250ml in primary schools and 500ml in high schools.

To assist school canteen managers, a ready reckoner is available online to help balance the menu.

Healthy food in hospitals
The nutrition benchmarks apply to all food and drink outlets that serve staff and visitors, including cafes, cafeterias, kiosks, vending machines, convenience stores and even newsagents, florists and pharmacies. It also applies to catering for events such as functions, meetings or workshops.

To assist facility managers, A Ready Reckoner gives examples that meet the benchmarks, and an online resource is being developed listing branded foods and drinks that score 3.5 stars or above.

A key component of both initiatives will be a monitoring and evaluation program to measure progress, identify best practice and review what is working well and not so well. 

NEXT: Alcohol: The Forgotten Discretionary Food 

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