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Coroner: Soft drinks may need health warnings

By NICK PERRY Published: February 14, 2013

At a 2011 inquest into Harris' death, Vivienne Hodgkinson, the mother of Harris' boyfriend, said that Harris always needed to have Coca-Cola available, and that if she ran out she would “get the shakes, withdrawal symptoms; be angry, on edge and snappy.”

The coroner also heard evidence that 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, preferring the taste over diet or caffeine-free varieties. The coroner heard that Harris had no energy in the months leading up to her death, felt ill all the time and often vomited and experienced a racing heart.

The coroner said it was hard to be certain about how much Coke Harris drank, but after reviewing evidence from her partner and friends, as well as 51 supermarket receipts, he estimated it was between 6 and 10 liters (1.6 and 2.6 gallons) per day.

The pathologist who examined Harris found that she likely suffered from hypokalemia, or low potassium, which contributed to her health problems, and that she had an enlarged liver from excessive sugar consumption.

Another pathologist giving expert testimony said that excessive cola consumption “can be dramatically symptomatic, and there are strong hypothetical grounds for this becoming fatal in individual cases.”

But a third pathologist giving evidence for Coca-Cola said that Harris' health problems could have been caused by anemia or diabetes, and that genetic factors may also have played a role.

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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