Coca-cola maintains it sells ''safe, quality beverages'',
after a coroner found excessive consumption of the soft drink
was a ''substantial factor'' in the death of a mother of eight.
Natasha Marie Harris (31), who drank up to 10 litres of
Coca-Cola daily - the equivalent of 1kg of sugar - died in
her Invercargill home on February 25, 2010.
Yesterday, Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar released his
findings, in which she was found to have died from cardiac
''When all of the available evidence is considered, were it
not for the consumption of very large quantities of Coke by
Natasha Harris, it is unlikely that she would have died when
she died and how she died.''
Mr Crerar recommended health agencies investigate whether
warning labels concerning the amount of sugar and caffeine in
soft drinks would give sufficient protection to consumers.
At the inquest, Ms Harris' family said, as Coca-Cola had no
warning signs, they did not consider it harmful.
Her partner, Christopher Hodgkinson, told the inquest Ms
Harris also smoked 30 cigarettes a day and was aware of the
warning labels on the packets and the health hazard involved.
One or more of her children were born without enamel on their
teeth, and Ms Harris had had her teeth extracted several
years ago because of decay, which her family believed was
caused by Coca-Cola.
The coroner noted this should have been treated as a health
warning by Ms Harris, who did not like going to the doctor.
On most days during the six months before her death, Ms
Harris, who was estimated to drink between six and 10 litres
of Coca-Cola a day, often vomited in the morning, had little
energy, and was a poor eater.
A daily caffeine intake of 400mg or less was considered safe
for a healthy adult, but a daily consumption of 500mg could
lead to health problems.
A litre of standard Coca-Cola - Ms Harris' preferred drink -
contained 97mg of caffeine and therefore she consumed up to
970mg of caffeine each day.
Mr Crerar found: ''On the balance of probabilities, this
being the standard required of a coroner in these
circumstances, it is more likely than not that the drinking
of very large quantities of Coke by Natasha Harris was a
substantial factor that contributed to the development of the
metabolic imbalances which gave rise to the arrhythmia''.
A copy of his findings would be sent to the Ministry of
Health, requesting warning labels on carbonated beverages
give sufficient protection to consumers.
''The hazards to the health of the consumers of excessive
quantities of sugar and caffeine contained in carbonated
beverages could be more clearly emphasised.''
Coca-Cola Oceania yesterday issued a statement noting the
coroner was not certain what caused Ms Harris' heart attack,
and saying the company was ''disappointed'' he focused on her
excessive consumption of Coca-Cola, 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 would not be drawn into the coroner's
recommendations concerning labelling, but maintained that
''the safety of our products is paramount, and our promise is
to deliver safe, quality beverages''.
''All of our products have a place in an active, healthy
lifestyle that includes a sensible, balanced diet and regular
physical activity,'' the company said.
A Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman said the
coroner's recommendation would be considered as part of a
policy review for foods containing caffeine.
Public consultation on the review would take place in April
Cola drinks, including those containing guarana, had to be
labelled that they contain caffeine, but not the amount when
it was used as a food additive.
Formulated caffeinated beverages containing more than 145mg
of caffeine per litre were required to list the amount of
caffeine per serve and per 100ml and carry an advisory
statement the product was not suitable for children, pregnant
or lactating women, or people sensitive to caffeine.
University of Otago National Addiction Centre director Prof
Doug Sellman said soft drinks would be ''more accurately
described as fat drinks, given the amount of sugar in them''.
He advocated a traffic-light system for food, and ''Coca-Cola
along with all other sugar-laden, caffeine-heavy, soft drinks
should have a large red health information label on the
product, signalling to people the potential harm from
overconsuming the product''.
He was also supportive of a special tax on ''red light''
foods, which would effectively limit consumption and provide
additional revenue for the government to deal with health