Thirty-year-old New Zealand mother of eight Natasha Harris was not a casual Coca-Cola drinker: She drank more than two gallons of the soda per day, taking in more than 11 times the recommended daily sugar consumption and twice the recommended amount of caffeine in what her family calls an addiction, complete with withdrawal symptoms. And according to the coroner investigating her death by cardiac arrest, that addiction contributed to her death:
“I find that, 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.’’
The coroner’s report revealed Harris suffered from a variety of health problems possibly connected to her Coke problem, including a racing heart and “absent teeth.” Coca-Cola Oceania issued a statement condemning the report yesterday:
“The Coroner acknowledged that he could not be certain what caused Ms Harris’ heart attack. Therefore we are disappointed that the Coroner has chosen 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.”
While Harris’s soda consumption was clearly well outside the norm, research has connected the consumption of sugary drinks like soda to health concerns, particularly obesity. Children in the U.S. consume 7 trillion calories of these drinks per year, and studies show that the least healthy of those products are aggressively marketed to children of color who have been hit hardest by the obesity epidemic.
That marketing works so well that Coca-Cola has launched PR campaigns to divert attention from its role in that epidemic. The food and beverage industry touts “personal responsibility” messaging to emphasize that it’s simply up to people to make healthy choices and consume their products in moderation, as opposed to Harris. But health experts warn that those industries’ misleading marketing tactics mimic Big Tobacco’s.