“… diet, exercise and medications all have a role to play in weight loss”… or is there something more effective we could be doing??

Dr. Nicholas Chartres
5 min read

I recently spotted this article in The Sydney Morning Herald with the following headline “Why diet, exercise and medications all have a role to play in weight loss” 

The industrialized food industry (Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald’s et al.) along with the pharmaceutical drug companies that make these drugs love to read a headline such as this in our national newspapers.

In fact, they play a large role in this type of discursive framing. The industrialized food industry avoids being held accountable for causing the global obesity epidemic and the pharmaceutical industry profits from the medicalization of a condition that is preventable through strong government regulation.

As the headline suggests, this article discusses the need for new weight loss drugs to tackle obesity that have been shown to be effective in weight loss.

This article says that “the chorus of disapproval” for bringing new weight loss drugs onto the market is because people lack willpower and choose to be obese.

I strongly disagree.

As someone who has spent time working in the Metabolic and Obesity and Diabetes Unit in one of Sydney’s largest hospitals, I know (and evidence shows) that obesity is not caused by a lack of willpower. It was the main reason why I went from wanting to be a health practitioner trying to help an individual, to a researcher focused on identifying how various corporate actors like the industrialized food and pharmaceutical industries distort the science on the health harms of their products and undermine any regulatory efforts to limit their sale.

Obesity is caused by the industrialized food industry that has hijacked our food systems with Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs). Highly strategic food marketing practices coupled with biologically addictive properties of these highly affordable and available, high-calorie, nutrient-deficient UPFs mean that our willpower and innate physical and psychological mechanisms that control weight will always be overridden.

We didn’t/don’t blame an individual for being addicted to nicotine and smoking so we should not blame an individual for being addicted to these UPFs. They stimulate the same pathways in the brain. To limit the harm caused by smoking we regulated the tobacco industry.

“The chorus of disapproval” should be because pharmaceutical drugs are one of the leading causes of death with a large percentage of those who die having taken their drugs correctly. The article points to the success of the drugs in achieving weight loss in studies conducted up to 1 ½ years and their possible benefits in reducing heart disease and stroke.

But what about the long-term harms that these short-term studies can’t identify? As one of the experts points out – “we won’t know until they’ve been in use for a while”…. but the headline has already told us we need them to lose weight.

Additionally, health isn’t just about keeping weight off. If you continue to consume UPFs filled with chemicals and synthetic products, we know our risk of dying from cancerheart disease, and any causes will be higher than those who don’t. These drugs don’t change the quality of our food systems.

“The chorus of disapproval” should also be because as one of the experts highlights “people who need the help of these drugs most are often those who can least afford them”.

I recognize the urgent need for intervention for people that are obese and unable to lose weight (truly I do, with friends and family living with it), but this article exemplifies how our system of health care focuses on treatments (treatments that those that need them most can’t afford) rather than causes. Is this really what health care is?

And although both experts acknowledge the overconsumption of energy due to highly processed food and the role our genes play in us gaining weight and not being able to lose weight, nowhere in the article, however, do they say that we must regulate the food industry. Only at the bottom of the article was this one line “We also need other strategies, including a crackdown on marketing the junk food fueling obesity.”

My other main concern about an article like this is that the two experts that were quoted for this story have both received payments from the pharmaceutical company that makes the weight loss drug and this information wasn’t disclosed in the article (for one of the experts you can look this information up under the Medicines Australia “Payments to Healthcare Professionals”, for the other I searched their publications and funding).

This information is very important for the reader and should always be disclosed, especially when someone is recommending a new drug treatment.

Obesity and the health harms caused by obesity can only truly be addressed with systems-level change (so government regulation). This escalating burden of chronic disease, caused by entirely preventable lifestyle illnesses through the consumption of UPFs, along with the treatment of millions of Australians with drugs that may provide benefit without understanding the long-term harms, to me, is a health system completely broken and captured by the industrialized food and pharmaceutical industries.

While “Prevention and treatment are not the same”, how about we start with this framing first when discussing weight loss and obesity in the public domain:

  1. All clinicians, scientists, public health researchers, and consumers must advocate for regulation of the industrialized food industry, as we have with tobacco. For example – we must add graphic warning labels of breast cancer on UPFs that have been linked to such cancers; tax all sugar-sweetened beverages and UPFs that contain emulsifiers, colorings, or flavorings; ban all junk food advertising of sporting events and on television as we did with tobacco; pass legislation for subsidies that encourage farmers growing fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole foods and not farming to overproduce corn and soy used in the manufacture of UPFs.
  2. Drugs should only ever be recommended with extreme caution.
  3. If drugs are discussed publicly, explain to individuals that if you lose weight with drugs, you likely will need to keep taking the medications forever to keep the weight off and the long-term effects are unknown. All drugs have side effects and these weight loss drugs won’t improve your diet quality.
  4. Any experts that recommend the use of any pharmaceutical interventions disclose the financial conflicts of interest they have with the company that makes the drug they are recommending.

Perhaps then we will see headlines such as “Why regulating the food industry is the key to weight loss”.

Dr. Nicholas Chartres is the Associate Director of Science and Policy at the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Chartres conducted the first in-depth study of the association of industry sponsorship and its influence on primary nutrition research. He also analyzed how the food industry attempts to drive the research agenda by funding studies that measure the effects of nutrients, and not dietary patterns, that can be used to market food products. This research has contributed to an improved understanding of how these types of biases may influence the primary research that is used in informing the recommendations made in national dietary guidelines.

Effectiveness of different modes of fasting

Dr Kieron Rooney
3 min read

Is it time to eat yet?

One of the most common questions I get asked when attending community talks is – what do you think about fasting for weight loss? Which is then almost always followed up with – what is the best fasting regimen to follow?

One of the greatest difficulties in answering this question is the scant amount of scientific evidence that compares, head-to-head, one style of fasting to another. As such, when I came across a paper conducting a meta-analysis comparing the effectiveness of different modes of fasting it is an understatement to say I was keen to read it.

First things first – what is a Meta-analysis?

A meta-analysis is where someone takes a whole heap of individual studies that have asked a similar question, and have measured similar things, but in different groups of people, and then puts them all together to pretend it was one large study. The authors of a meta-analysis quantitatively combine the results in the individual studies to come up with an overall combined result.

In the example of this paper, the authors went searching to find as many studies as they could that had compared the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for people trying to lose weight. They found 24 highly controlled studies. The smallest individual study was conducted in 16 people, the largest of the 24 studies was conducted in 332 people, and when the authors combined all 24 studies, they had data from a total of 1768 people that had undergone some form of intermittent fasting.

Importantly, these 1768 people did not all do the same type of intermittent fasting.

In this study there were people that had been in studies investigating alternate day fasting (0 calories or restricted calories one day, eat what you like the next); or they may have been following the 5:2 diet (0 calories or restricted calories two days a week, eat what you like the other 5); or they may have been following a time-restricted eating diet (you can eat everyday … but only in discrete windows of time such as 4-12 hours).

By including all these study designs, the authors were able to do some fancy statistical analyses to compare different types of fasting to each other, without having to run a study of their own that directly compared them.

Sounds neat right?

However, what this does mean is that this is secondary data, being analysed for a purpose not originally designed. So, while the maths is fancy and powerful we do need to keep in mind that it is a statistical study and at no point still, did we have the same person testing different types of fasting to see which worked best for weight loss.

Regardless, what does this study teach us?

First, if you perform any type of intermittent fasting for up to 3 months, you will lose weight compared to simply eating whatever you want whenever you want. However, you can achieve a similar amount of weight loss (up to 12% of body weight in some studies) by simply eating less everyday and not having to fast at all.


Where do we go from here?

Unfortunately, despite the impressive use of 1768 individual data points, we need to appreciate that there were only 24 studies included and not all of them tested the same fasting type – there were 12 studies that looked at alternate day fasting; 8 studies that looked at the 5:2 diet and only 4 that looked at time-restricted feeding. Further, the individuals studied were either overweight or obese, yet did not have any other metabolic condition such as diabetes or metabolic syndrome, so how well we can rely on this for individual advice is very limited. Regardless, we do see here some good mathematical evidence for alternate day fasting as the most effective approach to intermittent fasting for weight loss.

So to answer our first two questions – I think intermittent fasting is a method for weight loss in which the scientific evidence is building to support it as an effective method just as good as trying to reduce how much you eat everyday. And for those of us that like strict rules, intermittent fasting is a viable and a relatively easy method to comply with.

Which method of fasting is the best? I don’t know – but it looks like we have some points in the corner for alternate day fasting here.

Dr Kieron Rooney is a nationally recognised expert in nutrition research and translation into policy and practice.

To date, his novel research has focussed on how high sugar and/or high fat diets impact metabolic health.

He has been a vocal advocate for improved labelling of manufactured products with a number of successful campaigns related to junk foods marketed to children.

Kieron is part of the Good Mood Dudes network of experts available to support your wellbeing program. If you want to soundboard your wellbeing plan or hear how we’d get your program up and running, get in touch with our team for a complimentary strategy call today. 

What Employees Want

Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres, sits down with The Guardian to discuss the new landscape of work/life balance and what employees expect from their workplace.

As featured in:

With the dust starting to settle after almost 3 years of disruption to our way of life due to Covid-19, evidence of what employees expect in the workplace is now becoming clear. 

While the transition to working from home came with its challenges as employees and employers had to conform to Covid-19 restrictions, what’s emerged is a new way to think about work-life balance. People are now seeking flexible work hours, healthier work environments, and autonomy in their roles over less valuable employee ‘perks’. Good Mood Dudes’ Dr Nick Chartres says “In most businesses right now, it’s all about autonomy and flexibility: the autonomy to select how many days in which people are going into the office, as well as the flexibility to adjust that on a week by week basis”.

But autonomy and flexibility are not the only important things people are seeking. “Natural light, fresh air, and end-of-trip facilities – so people can ride into work or go to the gym at lunchtime – are now pretty much mandatory for a lot of companies,” says Chartres. “Being close to public transport, supermarkets, gyms, parks, and green space is also great.” A workplace that makes the commute to work shorter and easier with the physical destination also being a place of comfort is a top request by employees today. 

Experts suggest that many people are now wanting to walk or cycle to work and when they arrive they want the office environment to offer an enjoyable experience that allows them to work effectively in comfort. Whilst psychosocial factors of company culture can impact the comfort of an employee in an office environment, things like having privacy to focus as well as spaces that support collaboration and interaction with teams are crucial.

Whilst the voices of those who prefer a more laissez-faire approach to leadership are being heard, it is important to remember that every employee is different and will have different needs when it comes to being able to work most effectively. 

If you’re looking to support your employees and are not sure where to start, book a strategy call with us today.

The Debate on Corporate Sponsorship of Our National Sporting Teams

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: Australian cricket captain Pat Cummins slammed for hypocritical ‘ethical objections’ of major sponsor Alinta Energy

Over the last two weeks, corporate sponsorship of our national sporting teams has been strongly debated across Australia, from the front pages of our leading newspapers and even the WhatsApp chat I have with former cricket teammates.

Australian men’s cricket captain, Pat Cummins has stated he has ethical issues about team sponsor Alinta Energy. Its parent company has been listed as one of Australia’s highest carbon emitters, and despite its well-publicized claims it is investing in renewable energy sources, is rated very low on The Green Electricity Guide which considers the timeframe companies propose to stop using coal, whether a company frequently causes local environmental harm, and is transparent in their marketing.

Those opposed to the views expressed by Pat Cummins have pointed to the fact that he has already received money from Alinta Energy to appear in ads, that he flies first class, and drives an SUV with high carbon emissions. All valid points that are hard to disagree with. 

And while climate change is the single greatest threat to human and planetary health, the current rates of childhood obesity have immediate consequences for our childrens’ future. The promotion of KFC by the Australian cricket team and its captain is of equal concern.

However, I applaud him for raising the issue.

I personally believe that we could use a threshold that if a company produces, manufactures, distributes, or sells a product that leads to health disparities and social and environmental injustices, then the government should prevent sporting teams from having them as a sponsor. Sport/professional sports should solely be about health promotion, especially for our children, and these industries sell products that erode such benefits. 

It is still not widely understood, but non-communicable diseases (NCDs), or chronic diseases are the main causes of deaths globally. Environmental exposures, including tobacco, petrochemicals, pesticides, ultra-processed food, alcohol, and pharmaceutical drugs like opioids, along with climate change-related events, including extreme weather and wildfires, are the main drivers of these chronic diseases harming human health.

The responses I have received to this idea when raised on my WhatsApp chat ranged from “well then, there will be no one to fund the teams, and the players won’t get paid, so good luck” to “you drink beers, fly on planes, eat Maccas and use Panadol, so..”. 

My response to these comments is grounded in the same logic as why we as a society eventually condemned tobacco advertising in sport – because we know the tobacco industry used sports and sportsmen as a vehicle to hide and distract from the harm of their products.

It remains to be seen, but I think there are still a lot of companies that will be able to fill the void left by these industries sponsoring our sporting teams. It happened when tobacco sponsorship was banned so there is good reason to think the same will happen again. 

Ultra-processed foods: it’s not just their low nutritional value that’s a concern

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: Ultra-processed foods: it’s not just their low nutritional value that’s a concern


What if we said that by eating nutrient deficient food, filled with chemicals, you have a significantly higher risk of dying younger from heart disease or cancer?

Pretty scary, huh?

Well in the UK, US and Canada, and Australia ultra-processed foods (nutrient deficient food, filled with chemicals) now account for ~50% or more of calories consumed. 

The food industry has told us that by fortifying these ultra-processed foods with other nutrients, it makes them healthier for us. The Health Star Rating system in Australia is a prime example of this tactic. 

However, it has now been identified that chronic inflammation may be a key contributor to why ultra-processed foods increase our disease risk. The industrial-sounding products and chemicals both within these foods (flavourings, colourings, emulsifiers, and thickeners) and the packets they are served in (very high levels of PFAS or ‘forever’ chemicals are found in various fast food packets) may be recognized by the body as foreign – like an invading bacteria or virus. It is proposed our body goes into fight mode against these harmful agents, causing an inflammatory response.

So why is this so bad?

Scientists have established ten Key Characteristics (KCs) that reflect the properties of cancer-causing hazardous agents. These include things like does the agent alter DNA repair, induce oxidative stress, or does it induce chronic inflammation. These KCSs of carcinogens have been applied in the evaluation of more than 70 carcinogens at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the world’s leading agency for classifying carcinogens. 

When we are continually eating ultra-processed foods (which we must be if ~50% of our diet comes from them), then we are likely to be in a state of chronic inflammation and therefore at a greater risk of disease. 

The article then points to the best ways we can prevent this disease state from happening. 1) Do not eat ultra-processed foods at all, and 2) Eat a plant-based diet.

Simple enough, right?

Well, doing these two things can be extremely difficult. This is because our food environment is flooded with these hyperpalatable food products, their marketing and advertising is ubiquitous and persuasive, and they are very cheap, making them affordable for very low-income communities, who are often the highest consumers of these products. 

So, what is the solution?

Well, part of it has to be government action and regulation, just like how we regulated tobacco, by banning advertising, increasing sales taxes and introducing plain packaging, just to name a few.


Dr Nicholas Chartres is the Director of Science & Policy at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Program of Reproductive Health and the Environment. His work focuses on US federal chemical policy and regulation.

Nick received his PhD from The University of Sydney, where his thesis examined ways to reduce bias in public health guidelines, including the primary studies that are used in our national Dietary Guidelines. Nick also has a Masters in Nutrition.

These harrowing cancer statistics can actually be good news. Wait, what?

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: These harrowing cancer statistics can actually be good news


When I first read this headline, I assumed that this article was going to discuss new government regulations on industry (alcohol in this instance), spurred by more unequivocal evidence on the already established health effects caused by harmful products like alcohol.

Instead, the story focused on what the individual can do to change their behaviour, with education being a key component of that behaviour change.

Seems reasonable, I hear you say.

Let me explain the shortcomings of this approach and why it is the narrative that the industries that produce these harmful products love to see published.

While the story points to the fact that smoking rates in Australia have dropped from 24% in 1995 to 11% in 2021, this was not done through education campaigns alone. It took an aggressive suite of regulatory measures for this to occur. These included an increase in sales taxes, a complete ban on advertising and marketing (sports advertising was one of the first to go), and the introduction of plain packaging, coupled with aggressive graphic health warnings by the Australian government.

Government action must be part of the solution.

I study the commercial determinants of health. This includes the strategies that industries like tobacco, alcohol, packaged food, and fossil fuels use to sell their products, as well as the political and economic systems that they operate within.

As economic globalization has intensified over the last two decades, these determinants of health have not only become the leading cause of disease but have also created health inequities within and across countries. For example, communities of color and low-income communities have experienced disproportionate consequences and impacts on their health due to either higher consumption rates of alcohol, tobacco, and ultra-processed foods or higher rates of exposure to toxic air pollution (due to the combustion of fossil fuels) and chemicals.

These industries use a suite of tactics aimed at preventing government regulation, which includes distorting the science on the human and planetary health effects of their products, undermining the policy process via lobbying, and shaping the narrative on their brands and products through evocative marketing and corporate social responsibility campaigns.

Now I love a beer and a pie at the footy. However, it’s vital that stories covering chronic health statistics should not be presented as a “really good news story” without being accompanied by perspectives addressing the need for government regulation to implement strategies like those mentioned above which have proven successful in tobacco control.

Without strong government action, these statistics will continue to increase, and I cannot see the silver lining in that.


Dr Nicholas Chartres is the Director of Science & Policy at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Program of Reproductive Health and the Environment. His work focuses on US federal chemical policy and regulation.

Nick received his PhD from The University of Sydney, where his thesis examined ways to reduce bias in public health guidelines, including the primary studies that are used in our national Dietary Guidelines. Nick also has a Masters in Nutrition.

Fast Food & Sports Stars Don’t Mix

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: GP-turned-MP to demand action on junk food advertising


Kids love sports stars.

They buy the shoes and clothes they wear, the cricket bats they use and the sports drinks they drink.

Therefore, a new bill to stop junk food sponsorship of children’s sport and ads shown during prime-time television like 20/20 cricket, when kids are watching with their families, is a welcome move to help reduce the number of overweight and obese Australian children.

We know from the success of smoking cessation rates globally that advertising, especially via mass media, is one of the most pervasive ways that companies can increase sales and consumption of their harmful products. If we cut advertising, we cut consumption and we can cut the resulting rates of disease that are caused by these harmful products.

Although advertisements for unhealthy foods and drinks are banned during broadcasts of television programs made for pre-schoolers, the average 5-8 old is still being exposed to more than 800 junk food television ads a year. Currently, the federal government has allowed the food industry to govern itself through a self-regulatory code, with junk food companies arguing that they are not advertising to children by sponsoring their sports because they only use their brand names and not pictures of their products.

However, the food industry knows that kids look up to sports stars and they still have a significant opportunity to get our kids hooked on their ultra-processed foods. If Australian men’s cricket captain Pat Cummins can eat KFC and still be one of the best athletes in the world, why wouldn’t an 8-year-old think that he can do the same?

It’s time to get serious and properly protect our children by banning all junk food advertising from sport.


Dr Nicholas Chartres is the Director of Science & Policy at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Program of Reproductive Health and the Environment. His work focuses on US federal chemical policy and regulation.

Nick received his PhD from The University of Sydney, where his thesis examined ways to reduce bias in public health guidelines, including the primary studies that are used in our national Dietary Guidelines. Nick also has a Masters in Nutrition.

About those five serves of veg a day you’re not eating

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: About those five serves of veg a day you’re not eating


If you’re eating your 5 & 2 each day you’re in the minority in Australia.

But before you beat yourself up, Dr Nicholas Chartres, who conducted the first in-depth study on how industry sponsorship influences nutrition research, and is an expert in identifying and analyzing industry influence in the research process, encourages us to consider the role of government and ‘Big Food’ in all of this.

Here are his 3 takeaways from this story:

– ~6% of Australian adults and ~9% of children eat the recommended two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables per day. This is actually up from 5.1% in 2014/15 and 4.2% in 2011-12.
– Affordability of buying vegetables is the single greatest barrier to consuming them (despite the unequivocal evidence that the more of them we eat, the lower our risk of dying a premature death from things like heart disease).
– “We need to move away from blaming the individual”.

So, the simple solution??

The government could subsidize farmers/primary producers to reduce the price of fruits and vegetable to consumers, increase their availability and in theory increase consumption (although removing the highly processed foods from our shopping aisles would also need to be addressed, I think to see meaningful change in consumption patterns of fruits and vegetables).

This would then lead to reductions in non-communicable disease risk and early dying, therefore significantly reducing our health care spending without any additional government spending. How?

The government could offset these subsidies by taxing ‘Big Food’ – the companies that reap millions of dollars from making our children sick with highly processed food commodities, that offer no nutritional value and are ubiquitous in our food systems and environment (think sugar-sweetened beverages – which have been taxed successfully in several countries of the world, leading to reduced consumption patterns).

Sounds simple, right?? Why isn’t it happening here?

It is due to the structural influence (economic and political) ‘Big Food’ has on our decision-makers.

However, there is hope. The Australian government led international efforts for cigarette plain packaging and a tobacco tax, which were successful in reducing smoking prevalence. And since obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia, I think it’s time for government action.


Dr Nicholas Chartres is the Director of Science & Policy at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Program of Reproductive Health and the Environment. His work focuses on US federal chemical policy and regulation.

Nick received his PhD from The University of Sydney, where his thesis examined ways to reduce bias in public health guidelines, including the primary studies that are used in our national Dietary Guidelines. Nick also has a Masters in Nutrition.

The NOVA Food Classification System Explained

NOVA is a system by which foods (and food products) are classified by their degree of processing and the purpose for processing, into one of four groups. It is not an acronym, it is just a name. So we thankfully don’t have to try and remember what it stands for.

How does NOVA classify foods?

Group 1 represents the unprocessed or minimally processed foods and includes edible parts of plants and animals which are either eaten directly after removal from nature (raw) or have had some minor level of processing performed to make them edible such as roasting, boiling, and pasteurisation. 

Group 2 refers to processed culinary ingredients – think oils, syrups, preserves and butter – these are substances obtained from Group 1, but with higher degrees of processing to make products that are used in the kitchen to cook with. The general recommendation then is to make Group 1 foods the basis of your diet using Group 2 foods in small amounts for seasoning and cooking.

As we increase the level of processing towards Groups 3 and 4 however we enter troubled waters. 

Group 3 are plain and simple – processed foods. These will be made from a collection of Group 1 and 2 foods. They contain a handful of ingredients but the process employed is for the purpose of increasing the durability and sensory qualities of the Group 1 and 2 foods. Here we are thinking smoked or cured meats, canned fruits and vegetables, cheeses and breads – and for those waiting to see where beer wine and ciders sit – they are right here as products of fermentation.

Group 4 are the ultra-processed products. A subtle note here that the word “food” is intentionally dropped from the group heading by the NOVA creators. These are industrial formulations typically with 5 or more ingredients. The ingredient list might look like there are Group 1 foods present, but they no longer represent anything like the way nature intended. The ingredients list here reads like a who’s who of chemistry’s rich and famous. Additives whose main purpose is to either mimic the qualities of Group 1 foods or to disguise the bitter taste the many “preservatives”, “emulsifiers” and “humectants” (whatever they are!?) that have been packed into the product possess. Some of the more common Group 4 product examples are supermarket breads, breakfast cereals, muesli bars and packet sauces and many of the frozen reheat meal options.

Which groups of foods should we be consuming? 

The general recommendation in regard to these groups is to consume Group 3 sparingly. They can be consumed in small amounts and as part of a meal based around Groups 1 and 2 but only on occasion. Group 4 however, are to be avoided. That’s it. Just avoid them.

Can ultra-processed foods be healthy?

The avoidance of processed products is far more easily said than done. For the most part, well over a third of our diet comes from products in this group. And more concerning is that many of the Group 4 products can be found with a healthy-looking 5 stars, low GI, tick of approval! These products are aggressively marketed, displace Group 1 foods from our daily diets and have a huge negative impact on our health. In a recent analysis of over 100,000 French adults, compared to those that reported consuming at least one-fifth of their diet from Group 4, overall cancer risk was increased in those consuming higher amounts of Group 4 products.

Progressively, nutritionists around the world are beginning to re-frame their understanding of healthy diets in the context of NOVA classifications. The good news is, we do not have to completely re-invent wheels here. We can look to a number of very popular dietary patterns in the community today as examples that are fundamentally built on diets of Group 1 and 2 foods.

Further reading:

NOVA. The star shines bright. World Nutrition Volume 7, Number 1-3, January-March 2016 [PDF]


Dr. Kieron Rooney completed his PhD in the Department of Biochemistry, within the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney. Kieron’s primary interest focuses on conducting research and using this research to educate others on how what we eat, influences our metabolism. 

When Did Eating A Healthy Diet Become So Hard?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 1 in every 20 Australians consumes the minimum serving of vegetables per day. While over a third of our diet comes from packaged junk food. Nutrition based public education campaigns don’t work. Sure, most of us know what we are supposed to be doing – 5 serves of vegetables, 2 serves of fruit, some protein but not too much, and go easy on the fats – and so to some extent, the message has got through. But they haven’t worked in affecting change or establishing good routine behaviours.

What does the Government have to say?

Governments, past and present, say it is the individuals’ fault for ignoring some 40 years of public awareness campaigns. More than one former Prime Minister and/or Federal Health Minister have proudly proclaimed that the only person that should tell them what to eat is themselves and Governments have no place in restricting food choices. But it is not the fault of the individual. It is a consequence of the food environment in which education must compete against marketing practices that overwhelm the senses and fatigue even the most committed shopper. Messaging in both public health campaigns and marketing practices seem to be widely varied and misinforming in many cases. With some 2 in every 3 Australians overweight or obese, we need a more authorative and thorough approach to public health messaging than just being told what is good for us.

Why are we all so confused on what to eat?

Over the past 40 years there has been and continues to be a fundamental shift in our understanding of nutritional science. In the early days, a reductionist approach was embraced in which foods were identified by their individual nutrients. Such as, did they contain saturated fat or unsaturated fat? Are they high protein or low protein? The result of this approach was a re-conceptualising of food, not as food. But rather as a vehicle of specific nutrients resulting in what is termed nutrient based criteria. Foods were quickly classified good or bad for you on the basis of perhaps only one ingredient. With the most consumed products being made up of three or more ingredients today, this approach can skew the validity of what is healthy and what is not.

The Health Star Rating System

The popular Health Star Rating System (HSR) is derived from this more reductionist approach. Where the apparent health of a food is determined by an algorithm incorporating component ratios of certain ingredients and correction factors for different food categories. While this system relies on science and a few calculations, in no living system, has the accuracy of the star ratings been tested, examined and shown to be true. Controversially, in some studies where interventions were supposed to improve the health of participants, incidence of disease increased. There are many examples of where the HSR fails to meet its lofty advocacy as a universal indicator for healthy choices. Not least the automatic allocation of 5 stars to fruit juice which the World Health Organisation arguably classifies as a sugar sweetened beverage and recommends we avoid. However, if adequately explained, consumers may still be able to find some use in the HSR.

The Glycemic Index or GI

An alternative approach to understanding the healthfulness of some foods has been to focus on the carbohydrate content, both the quantity and quality. The early steps in this approach saw the creation and development of the glycemic index. In brief, members of the community would be asked to eat small portions of a test food and their blood glucose response would be monitored. On another day an equivalent portion of white bread or some other comparative food would be consumed and the relative difference in blood glucose response would be used to calculate the GI. The general belief being – the lower the GI the healthier it is for you.

Over the past 20 or so years, millions of dollars and hours of effort have gone into validating this tool as an indicator of the healthfulness of a product. At the same time however, shortcomings in the methodology and high variability between individuals has chipped away at confidence in this commonly advocated front of pack label.

What do we do now?

If the two most immediately recognisable and advocated front of pack labels for helping consumers make informed choices are of limited use – where does that leave us? Well one of the first things we need to recognise with approaches such as the HSR and the GI, is that they focus only on some of the components in a product. And not necessarily the food, in the context of our daily lives and how we eat. Food is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

When we look beyond our borders we see a vastly different approach to “dietary guidelines”. For example in Brazil, there is no singling out of saturated fat, carbohydrates or even alcohol. Rather there are steps towards a healthy diet focussing on the avoidance of ultra-processed foods. They encourage planning, developing and sharing cooking skills and eating in social contexts. It is out of Brazil that the NOVA food classification was borne. A system that has both excited nutritional science in providing a whole new scope of data to play with but more importantly has provided community members and public health advocates with a simple enough guide to improving diets – focussing on food processing.

The systems and messaging in place in our modern society that were designed to aid in making healthy lifestyle changes when it comes to our diet are confusing and outdated. The government needs to take a new approach in advocating healthy lifestyle changes, like Brazil’s NOVA classification, where emphasis is put onto advocating for healthy food choices according to food proccessing standards without isolating a particular food group.

Further reading:

The NOVA Food Classification System Explained


Dr. Kieron Rooney completed his PhD in the Department of Biochemistry, within the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney. Kieron’s primary interest focuses on conducting research and using this research to educate others on how what we eat, influences our metabolism.