A fat tax may be imposed on sugary drinks and junk foods if a panel of nutritionists, doctors and health economists has its way.
It's still early days, but a process started at a Brisbane hotel on Wednesday could lead to in a new way to discourage foods that cause childhood obesity.
The biggest problems are sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, snack foods and some of the lower-quality formula-type products marketed for infants and toddlers, says the convener of the panel, Dr Tracy Comans.
Cooked food eaten away from the home is also a major concern.
Tax is one weapon. Another is subsidies, Dr Comans says.
The first task of her group - the early childhood expert panel on nutrition and obesity prevention - was the "complex question" of defining junk food.
"First of all we wanted to identify the main culprits and then if it is feasible to tax them," she said on Wednesday.
"The two areas where everyone felt it would be reasonable and practical to tax were sugary drinks and food away from home."
Other methods were needed for snacks, as the panel decided it was too difficult to define "what is a good snack, what is a bad snack and what's in-between".
The panel felt subsidising healthy food would be a good option.
The next step in the project, funded by the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, will be to consult a random group of 20 ordinary people in May or June.
"Obesity rates have been spiralling out of control," Dr Comans, a health economist at Griffith University, said.
"We know the key to dealing with the problem is prevention. This means targeting parents' food preferences.
"These are things we are saying should be explored."
The public would help decide what was acceptable and what was no-go.
She said the consensus was that parents needed to follow the revised Australian dietary guidelines. That meant children under five should be having no sugar-sweetened drinks and no fruit juices in the first 12 months, and then a maximum of half a cup of non-sweetened fruit juice a day.