The measure would apply only to retailers in England; other parts of Britain have the power to set their own rules.
LONDON — In England, 16-year-olds can down a pint in a pub, if having a meal in adult company. But under a new government proposal, it would be illegal for them to buy an energy drink like Red Bull at the corner store.
A government statement on the proposal said two-thirds of children ages 10 to 17, and one-quarter of those from 6 to 9, consumed energy drinks. It cited concerns, including childhood obesity and the effects of caffeine and sugar on behavior in school.
“Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges this country faces, and that’s why we are taking significant action to reduce the amounts of sugar consumed by young people and to help families make healthier choices,” Prime Minister Theresa May said in the statement.
The measure would apply only to retailers in England; other parts of Britain have the power to set their own rules. In a 12-week comment period that started Thursday, the public is being asked whether restrictions should apply until 16 or 18, and whether the law should be changed to stop children from buying energy drinks in any situation.
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Many supermarkets and other major retailers in Britain already decline to sell energy drinks to children. But they remain readily available from smaller stores and vending machines, and some brands are sold for as little as a pound, about $1.30.
The government said one 250-milliliter can (about 8.5 ounces) of energy drink often contained about 80 milligrams of caffeine — the equivalent of a cup of coffee or nearly three cans of cola — and up to 60 percent more sugar on average than regular soft drinks. It said excessive consumption among children had been linked to headaches, sleep problems, stomachaches and hyperactivity.
The plan would ban the sale to children of energy drinks that contain more than 150 milligrams of caffeine per liter.
“Our plans to tackle obesity are already world-leading, but we recognize much more needs to be done and as part of our long-term plan for the NHS, we are putting a renewed focus on the prevention of ill health,” May added, referring to the National Health Service.
Steve Brine, the public-health minister, said in the statement that British children consumed 50 percent more energy drinks than other European countries, adding that teachers “have made worrying links between energy drinks and poor behavior in the classroom.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, a British teachers union, referred to the drinks in a statement as “readily available legal highs” that led to unruly behavior in schools.
Health experts in Britain also welcomed the proposal. “There is no evidence that energy drinks have any nutritional value or place in the diet of children and young people,” Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, said in an email.
“It’s therefore worrying that so many young people are buying these drinks at low prices and consuming them on a regular basis,” he added.
Energy Drinks Europe, a trade body, argued in a statement that energy drinks’ caffeine content was similar to that of coffee and their sugar content was comparable to that of juices and conventional soft drinks.
“For all ages, there are much greater contributors of caffeine and sugar in the diet than energy drinks,” a spokesman for the group said in the statement. “A sales ban on energy drinks is therefore arbitrary, discriminatory and not effective.”