MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Energy drinks are everywhere — and they are increasingly popular with kids.
At Skyzone, a popular trampoline park in Plymouth, Minn., which is part of a national chain, caffeinated energy drinks are sold in pre-packaged bottles, and they’re also sold as shots in slushies and other drinks.
A Twin Cities mom says her 12-year-old daughter, Mackenzie Hodge, and her friend Kelli Pehrson got sick after drinking energy shots at Skyzone.
Hodge said she was going to the trampoline park, because “it is a cool place.” Skyzone has multiple trampolines stitched together, a foam pit and a dodge ball court. But it wasn’t either of those things that left Hodge and Pehrson vomiting.
The teens said they saw posters around Skyzone advertising XS Blast Energy Drinks. The blue-bottled drinks sell for $2.50 at the concession stand.
After both teens drank one, they bought two energy shots, which were mixed into slushies. The shots sell for $1 each.
The teens said they were having fun, at first.
“I started to not feel good after I almost finished the slushie,” Hodge said.
Not long after, Hodge vomited. At about that time, Pehrson began to feel sick.
Hodge’s mother, Heather Hodge, was shocked when the girls arrived home.
“Both of their hearts were racing, their eyes were dilated; it was kind of scary,” she said.
Heather Hodge said she didn’t know the teens were able to add seemingly unlimited energy shots to their smoothies.
Hodge’s father is trained as an EMT, and he made sure the teens got lots of water.
“I felt sick after I threw up, too — probably for like another hour,” Hodge said.
Heather Hodge said she had no idea what her daughter and her friend were drinking at Skyzone.
“I have no idea what she put in her body that night,” she said. “I just know she got sick and so did her friend.”
WCCO-TV decided to see what Skyzone sells to kids. So we had kids go into Skyzone to see what drinks they could buy, and we had the drinks tested by a lab.
One of the kids shot video with a cell phone camera showing a 10-year-old girl buying the blue-bottled XS Energy drink that both Hodge and Pehrson bought and drank.
The kids found that Skyzone urges kids to add extra energy shots to their drinks. When an 11-year-old girl ordered a slushie, a staffer asked her: “Do you want an energy boost in that for an extra dollar?”
The girl accepted and was able to buy the shot.
One of the kids, a 12-year-old boy, was able to order a slushie with four shots.
We bottled up these slushies and sent them to a lab along with the XS Blast Energy drink.
The two-shot slushies had approximately 88 milligrams of caffeine. The four-shot slushie had 180 milligrams of caffeine, and the XS Blast bottle had 76 milligrams of caffeine.
A 12 ounce Mountain Dew has 55 milligrams of caffeine. Hodge and Pehrson had one bottle of XS Blast and two shots in their slushies, a total of 164 milligrams of caffeine — or almost exactly three 12 ounce Mountain Dews in about 90 minutes.
Heather Hodge is not happy about those numbers.
“Never would I have thought that my child would get hurt from drinking something in a slushie,” she said.
There are, at least, seven other countries that regulate or even ban the sale of energy drinks. The U.S. has no such restrictions. But concern has been growing in the scientific and medical communities. The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for more research in light of data from Germany and Ireland that links energy drinks to seizures and even death. The Academy of Pediatrics report notes that studies have shown adverse effects in children who have preexisting conditions or are on medication.
Ted Labuza is a professor of nutrition and food science; he reviewed the lab results.
“It’s dangerous,” Labuzza said. “There probably should be some kind of requirement that you have to be 18 or older to have this stuff.”
Labuzza said the effect of the caffeine is intensified at Skyzone because the kids are exercising, using up the glucose in their bodies.
What Hodge and Pehrson did not see in the fine print on the blue XS Blast Energy bottles was a warning that says, “Caution: Powerful: not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women or those sensitive to caffeine.”
Heather Hodge wonders why a drink with that warning label is being sold to kids at all.
“These drinks are being marketed and promoted to our children,” she said. “I never would have thought that it would have been made available to our child at an event for children, so I would like other parents to know.”
For Hodge and Pehrson the lesson is even more basic.
“Just because the poster is big and bright, doesn’t mean it is good for you,” Hodge said.
The founder of XS Energy, David Vanderveen, gave the following statement.
“XS Energy Drinks does not sell directly to Skyzone and was not aware of their marketing or promotions practices to young children. We do not recommend that any children 12 or younger consume caffeinated products, including our energy drinks with caffeine, which is why we make caffeine free versions of our products that are clearly marked and labeled as such. We are requesting that the distributor who sells our caffeinated products to Skyzone discontinue sales immediately.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Sky Zone took action after WCCO’s investigation. In a statement, the owner of the parks in Minnesota told WCCO: “We have taken away all energy drinks and shots from our shelves. We no longer sell them.”