Coca-Cola habit big factor in mum's death - coroner

Natasha Harris
Natasha Harris
Coca-Cola says there is not enough evidence to link the death of an Invercargill woman with her excessive Coke drinking, despite a coroner's report that found otherwise.

Mother-of-eight Natasha Marie Harris, 31, died of cardiac arrhythmia caused by poor nutrition and the effects of caffeine, Southland Coroner David Crerar said.

Ms Harris, a mother of eight, died on February 25, 2010 after suffering years of ill health.

At an inquest into her death last April, Mr Crerar was told Ms Harris drank only Coke and consumed between six and 10 litres a day. That amount contained about twice the recommended safe daily caffeine intake.

In today's report, he recommended Coca-Cola warn consumers of the harm to their health if they drink excessive amounts of caffeine.

But the beverage giant said it was disappointed Mr Crerar had chosen to focus on the combination of Ms Harris' excessive consumption of Coke, together with other health and lifestyle factors, as the probable cause of her death.

"This is contrary to the evidence that showed the experts could not agree on the most likely cause," the company said.

In his finding, released today, Mr Crerar also recommended the Ministry of Health consider clearer labels on soft drinks warning of the dangers of excessive sugar and caffeine.

The Ministry of Health said the recommendation should have been put to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) because of their role in food safety.

An MPI spokesman said New Zealand shared food labelling standards with Australia and any changes to labelling had to be agreed by both countries.

A review into the policy on guidelines for labelling caffeine products was being undertaken by Australia and New Zealand officials, he said.

The ministry would ensure the coroner's recommendations were considered as part of that review, and public consultation on the review will take place in April he said.

Ms Harris' partner Christopher Hodgkinson told the inquest that in the six months before her death, she had "no energy and was feeling sick all the time".

"She would get up and vomit in the morning."

She smoked about 30 cigarettes a day and hardly ate, sometimes eating only a snack at lunch.

But Ms Harris always needed Coke, Mr Hodgkinson said.

"(If unavailable she would) get the shakes, withdrawal symptoms, be angry, on edge and snappy."

His mother Vivienne Hodgkinson told the inquest all Ms Harris' teeth were rotten and had been pulled out. Some of her children were born without enamel on their teeth.

Mr Hodgkinson said despite Ms Harris suffering from tiredness, lethargy and a racing heart, she did not consult a doctor because she was afraid of them.

Mr Crerar said a daily caffeine intake of 400mg or less was considered safe for a healthy adult, and a daily consumption of 500mg was widely believed to lead to health problems.

One litre of Coke contains 97mg of caffeine, and Ms Harris was drinking up to 10 litres a day.

Coca-Cola told the inquest there were a number of possible causes of cardiac arrhythmia and it was not possible to conclude that drinking Coke was "a probable cause or a definite contributor to her sudden death".

Mr Crerar said Ms Harris and her family knew, or ought to have known and recognised, the health hazard of her chosen diet and lifestyle.

What's in Coca Cola?

* 97mg caffeine

* 100mg sodium

* 1mg potassium (can vary)

* 106g cane sugar

- Rebecca Quilliam


Personal responsibility

I can't recall but are there labels on beer warning that excessive consumption may be dangerous to your health? Where do you draw the line because anything to excess is dangerous.

Personal responsibility

Any rational individual would acknowledge that consuming 8 litres of coke per day is bad for one's health, especially if all of one's teeth had fallen out and medical practicioners had also advised her to cut back on consumption.

If one was to consume a jar of peanut butter (51% fat) everyday, they would become morbidly obese and eventually die of heart failure, does that mean it would be Eta's fault and peanut butter should come with a surgeon generals warning?


I don't understand why people still do things like this.

When did personal responsibility fly out the window, leaving companies to deal with the misuse of their products?

"I used my hair dryer in the shower and almost killed myself", so now there are specific warnings against it. 

Use your head: If I eat 4kg of birds eye chillies a day, I'm going to be paying a visit to the emergency room. Where's the warning label for those?

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