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Did two gallons of Coke a day lead to this woman's death?

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

February 13, 2013 | 3 min read

A coroner wants health warnings added to soft-drink labels following the 2010 death of a New Zealand mother of eight who drank about two gallons of Coca-Cola a day.

Natasha Harris: Coke, Coke and more Coke

Coroner David Crerar, reporting on the death of 31-year-old Natasha Harris, decided she died from a heart attack.

The large amount of Coca-Cola she drank likely led to metabolic imbalances that gave rise to her heart problems, he said, adding that Coke was likely a "substantial factor" in her death.

But New Zealand Food & Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich rejected his call.

She said, "there isn't a labelling regime in the world" that could have prevented the death of somebody who chose to drink Coke in such large quantities.

The coroner's recommendations were "well-intentioned but ill-informed," she insisted. Coffee, tea and chocolate also contain significant amounts of caffeine but New Zealanders are unlikely to support the notion of health warnings every time they walk into a cafe or buy a chocolate bar.

She said the huge volume of Coca-Cola that Ms. Harris drank meant she couldn't receive adequate nutrients from other food sources.

"It doesn't matter what the food is. If it's consumed in excess, there will be ill health effects," Rich said.

The coroner recommended that soft drink makers consider including caffeine levels on the labels and warnings about the ill health effects if the drinks are consumed in excessive quantities.

In New Zealand, warnings are mandatory on drinks with caffeine levels higher than 145 milligrams per kilogram. That covers energy drinks, but not most soft drinks.

The coroner heard evidence that Ms. Harris was of normal weight, didn't eat much or drink any alcohol, and smoked about 30 cigarettes a day. She drank only regular Coke.

After evidence from the partner and friends, and looking at 51 supermarket receipts, he estimated she drank between 1.6 and 2.6 gallons of Coke per day.

One pathologist found she had an enlarged liver from excessive sugar consumption.

In a statement, Coca-Cola Oceania said it was disappointed the coroner chose to focus on "the combination of Ms. Harris' 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."

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