April 24, 2024

A new energy drink called PRIME is giving parents, teachers, and now lawmakers a caffeine headache. Branded as “the fastest growing sports drink in history” by two famous YouTube influencers, investors, and Super Bowl ad campaign stars Paul Logan and KSI, PRIME energy drink has more caffeine than beverages like Red Bull and has become a must-have drink for preteens and teens.

The problem? PRIME contains more caffeine than is considered healthy for anyone under 18. PRIME has caused such a stir that it is now being banned in schools, where kids are even selling the drink to each other, according to parents on Twitter.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also gotten involved in the debate over PRIME. The Senator from New York sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), calling for an investigation into these popular drinks. He says the drink has become a status symbol on social media. But the company lacks necessary warnings and information for parents.

“One of the summer’s hottest status symbols for kids is not an outfit or a toy—it’s a beverage—but buyer and parents beware because it’s a serious health concern for the kids it so feverishly targets,” Senator Schumer says in a news release. “PRIME is so new that most parents haven’t a clue about it, but it is born from the reels of social media

In his letter to the FDA, the Senator is asking regulators to investigate four things:

  • Health claims by the ‘sports’ beverage PRIME.
  • The marketing of PRIME’s energy drink, which is social media and influencer-specific.
  • Caffeine content as well as sufficient warnings and/or labeling on both the product and its website.
  • Is this level of caffeine included in the product safe for children?

What’s In PRIME Energy Drinks?

PRIME comes in the form of sports drinks, energy drinks, and drink mixes. It was released in the United Kingdom in 2022 and quickly banned in Australia and New Zealand, thanks to its eyebrow-raising nutrition profile. PRIME energy drinks contain 200mg of caffeine per 355ml can, the same amount of caffeine as two-and-a-half cans of Red Bull, three large coffees, or six cans of Coca-Cola. That’s a lot of caffeine to pump into an adult, let alone a kid.

According to its website, PRIME states that energy drinks are not suitable for kids under 18, pregnant people, or breastfeeding people. But that doesn’t appear to stop the brand from targeting tweens and teens, particularly those who are easily influenced by macho advertising that flaunts ideas of “manliness.”

The phrasing “energy drink” makes them sound like healthy options, especially for active kids. But the truth is that caffeine is not healthy or safe for kids—even teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), caffeine can lead to harmful side effects in kids under 18, including:

  • Dehydration (not enough water in your body)
  • Heart complications (such as irregular heartbeat and heart failure)
  • Anxiety (feeling nervous and jittery)
  • Insomnia (unable to sleep)

Schools Are Banning PRIME Energy Drinks

Schools across the country are starting to ban PRIME, according to parents on social media. One parent, Twitter user @noimkat wrote, “my kindergartner’s school sent an email to myself and all the parents asking not to send their kids to school with PRIME because they don’t realize it’s an energy drink lmaooo.”

Another parent, @lshanehotmailc1, wrote on Twitter, “We had an email warning from my child’s school about the dangers of a new craze called PRIME Energy drink. It’s stronger than Red Bull, promoted on social media. Another kid tried to sell it to my child. I’ve had no choice but report this to school for the sake of them & others.”

The principal of an upper elementary school in New Jersey (5th and 6th grades) hasn’t banned the drink, but did think it was enough of a concern to send an email out to parents. He says students in the school who have had energy drinks in the past have then ended up reporting to the nurse’s office with headaches and other symptoms.

“No parents have reached out to complain. In fact, it was my concern as a fellow parent and educator to reach out to them,” the principal tells Parents. “They seemed unaware of the health concerns attributed to high caffeine and sugar content in these drinks, and I focused on public awareness, discouraging [the drinks] and no selling in school, from one student to another (this is also an expectation in school—no selling of any items).”

A 7th grader in the same district says students are trying to sell the drinks to each other in the lunchroom for $8 or more, even when the bottles are half-drank. She also says she doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the appeal of the drinks. But it seems there are plenty of other kids who do.

The Rise of Energy Drinks on Social Media

YouTubers Logan and KSI aren’t alone in promoting their energy drinks online. Energy drink content is very popular on TikTok as well. According to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, energy drink-related content on TikTok has high engagement and may contribute to an increase in consumption.

Researchers looked at almost 200 videos with a combined 70+ million views. Of those videos, 22% featured a child or adolescent. and 15% showed a hazardous level of consumption. The videos also show consuming energy drinks in a positive light. All of this leads to kids watching these videos and then buying these drinks.

Given the health risks associated with these highly-caffeinated drinks, researchers say there needs to be steps taken to limit kids’ exposure to energy drink videos,. Among the recommendations—placing age-related restrictions on these types of videos on TikTok, just as they would for advertising of tobacco and alcohol to minors.

Why Energy Drinks Are Unsafe for Kids

Energy and sports drinks may sound healthy and safe, but they are two different things, and energy drinks are unsafe for kids.

Energy drinks have high amounts of caffeine and some contain guarana, both of which are stimulants. Sports drinks have carbohydrates, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and varying sugar levels. If parents are concerned about their child’s hydration and want to reach for a sports drink, make sure to read the label closely. Look for drinks that contain low (or no) amounts of sugar, no caffeine or other stimulants, and avoid drinks that are excessively high in vitamins.

“Anecdotally, I believe it does not help students’ behavior since they are excessively energized while being seated in classes,” the New Jersey school principal adds. “I encourage alternative healthy choices, like water, milk, and juices, for hydration.”

“Energy drinks are unsafe for kids due to the caffeine content, added sugars, and other ingredients, including the excessive amount of B vitamins, ginseng, and guarana,” says Mary Wirtz, a registered dietitian, board-certified sports dietitian, and consultant for Mom Loves Best. “Caffeine consumption in children can result in undesirable side effects, including heart palpitations, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, jitters, dehydration, and anxiety, among other unwanted side effects.”

Those side effects can turn into emergencies. According to the CDC, children who consume too many energy drinks can and do end up in the emergency room.

Mary Wirtz, Sports Dietician

When a child consumes high amounts of caffeine, it can cause various negative effects on their bodies, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, nervousness, and anxiety.

— Mary Wirtz, Sports Dietician

“When a child consumes high amounts of caffeine, it can cause various negative effects on their bodies, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, nervousness, and anxiety,” Melissa Wasserman Baker, a registered nutritionist with Food Queries, tells Parents. “In extreme cases, high doses of caffeine can lead to seizures or even death.”

If a child consumes too much caffeine, they could get sick, potentially leading to a heart attack. “If a child shows caffeine overdose symptoms, such as rapid or irregular heartbeat, vomiting, confusion, or seizures, they should seek medical attention immediately,” Baker says.

Wirtz explains not only is caffeine unsafe for children to consume because of the potential for serious side effects, but also the danger of kids becoming addicted to it.

“Children, similar to adults, can become addicted to almost anything, including caffeine,” she says. “If a child regularly consumes caffeine, requires it to stay awake and energized throughout the day, or struggles with frequent dehydration, these are all warning signs.”

What Energy Drink Alternatives Can Parents Offer to Kids?

So, what’s a parent to do when the allure of drinking the latest coolest energy drink has kids buzzing with excitement? Baker says parents should educate themselves and offer their kids better hydrating alternatives to drinks like PRIME Energy.

“Parents should be aware of the potential dangers of energy drinks and should talk to their children about the risks associated with their consumption,” Baker says. “Instead of energy drinks, children should be encouraged to drink water, milk, or other healthier beverages to stay hydrated and energized throughout the day.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates for water to be the drink of choice for tweens and teens throughout the day as their main source of hydration. According to the AAP’s Healthy Hydration Campaign, for kids ages 7 to 18, 100% fruit juice should be limited to 8 ounces or 1 cup per day. But fruits should be encouraged over juice. The AAP also says high-carbohydrate sports drinks should be limited or avoided altogether.

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