The government has distanced itself from an academic paper advocating a 'fat tax' on unhealthy foods - despite the fact that one of its authors played a key role in developing the Food Standards Agency's infamous Nutrient Profiling Model.

The analysis, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health this week, advocated placing a 17.5% tax on foods such as dairy products, bacon and biscuits in a bid to deter people from eating them.

One of the authors, Dr Mike Rayner, was a pivotal member of the expert committee that developed the Nutrient Profiling Model that underpins Ofcom's restrictions on advertising food to kids. The model has come under fire because it demonises some healthy foods - a fact highlighted by The Grocer's Weigh It Up! campaign.

But an FSA spokeswoman said: "This [proposal] is certainly not something that we have said or supported. Our approach to getting people to eat healthier foods is through education and helping people make informed choices."

The Department of Health agreed education, rather than taxes, was the best way to tackle obesity.

The food industry poured scorn on Rayner's proposal. "This is utter nonsense," said Julian Hunt, communications director at the Food and Drink Federation.

"Aside from the fact that the researchers think it is OK to tax perfectly nutritious foods, such as cheese, such a move would be a regressive tax on the least well-off, who already spend more of their disposable income on food and drink."

But Rayner defended the suggestion. "We already have taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. It is not too much of a jump to think about taxing food that is contributing towards this country's obesity crisis - which is, after all, costing the NHS in excess of £6bn a year.

"Obesity affects people on lower incomes far more, and to say that taxing the foods they are more likely to buy would be a negative when it would help prevent them from buying unhealthier foods is absurd."

Higher taxes on fatty food should not be introduced without taking steps to make healthier foods cheaper, he added.