Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Coke should warn about caffeine risk - coroner

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

A caffeine overload brought on by drinking up to 10 litres of Coca-Cola a day was a contributing factor in a woman's death, a coroner has ruled.

Natasha Marie Harris, 31, a mother of eight, died of cardiac arrhythmia caused by poor nutrition and the effects of caffeine, Southland coroner David Crerar said yesterday.

Ms Harris 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 exclusively drank Coca-Cola and consumed between six and 10 litres a day. That amount contained about twice the recommended safe daily caffeine intake.

In the coroner's report released yesterday, Mr Crerar recommended Coca-Cola warn the public of the harm excessive caffeine can cause.

Coca-Cola 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.

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 because of its food safety role.

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

Guidelines for labelling caffeine products were being reviewed 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.

He said if it was not available Ms Harris 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.

WHAT'S IN A LITRE OF COCA-COLA?

* 97mg caffeine
* 100mg sodium
* 1mg potassium (can vary)
* 106g cane sugar.

- APNZ

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