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
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