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Soft Drink Warning Labels Face Criticism After Coroner's Finding On Natasha Harris' Coca-Cola Habit


A New Zealand coroner recommended warning labels be placed on soft drinks after the court linked Coca-Cola to the death of 31-year-old Natasha Harris.

Last week, a New Zealand coroner linked the 2010 death of Natasha Harris, a 31-year-old mother of eight, to health complications brought on by her excessive consumption of Coca-Cola.

The coroner, David Crerar, did not hold the Coca-Cola company responsible for the woman's death. However, he recommended that warning labels be placed on soft drinks in an effort to educate the public about the health risks associated with overconsumption of sugary, caffeinated beverages.

The suggestion is now facing criticism from both sides of the debate. While Coca-Cola and beverage industry associations have rejected the use of such labels as unfair, some critics of sugary drinks think that warnings alone might not be enough to impact public health.

In a Feb. 13 statement, Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council, an industry association, said that "No regulatory system can legislate for extreme cases" such as Harris'.

According to depositions submitted to the coroner's inquest, Harris drank more than 2 gallons of Coke every day. Due to her habit, Crerar estimated that the woman's intake of caffeine was almost double the daily amount considered healthy. In addition, he estimated Harris consumed the equivalent of 2 pounds of sugar a day.

In an email to The Huffington Post, Coca-Cola expressed sympathy for Harris and her family but said that it does "not believe soft drinks should be singled out from other beverages and foods for additional labeling requirements," claiming that "[the] caffeine levels in Coke are less than many other commonly consumed beverages," such as instant coffee and tea.

While the coroner's finding linked excessive caffeine intake to the cardiac arrhythmia that killed Harris, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert, said he thinks the added sugar in such beverages is the real problem.

Freedhoff said he "wouldn't be opposed" to health warnings on packaging, since they've been shown effective in discouraging smoking, but he noted that in the case of soft drinks, labels alone might not be enough to impact public health.

"With warning labels the only intervention, I doubt we'd see huge change. Couple warning labels with taxes on added sugars, public health campaigns explaining the risks inherent to their consumptions, limits on cups sizes ... and inclusion of added sugars as risky to school curricula, and I'd bet we'd see a big difference," Freedhoff wrote in an email to HuffPost.

In literature about sugary drinks and obesity, the Harvard School of Public Health claims that "rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic," and cited a two-decade study that linked consumption of sugary soft drinks with an increased risk of heart disease in men.

A related study by the Department of Nutrition at Simmons College found a similar disease link in women, noting in conclusion that:

"Regular consumption of [sugar sweetened beverages] is associated with a higher risk of [coronary heart disease] in women, even after other unhealthful lifestyle or dietary factors are accounted for."

This finding is significant because critics of the New Zealand coroner's decision, which include Coca-Cola and trade associations, have pointed to health factors such as Harris' poor diet and heavy smoking habit as a way to detract from the role of sweetened beverages in her death.

A review of policy guidelines on the addition of caffeine to foods is the subject of a current working group between Australian and New Zealand ministries, a spokesman for the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries told Stuff.co.nz.

This isn't the first time that Coca-Cola has faced criticism from health advocates this year. In January, an ad claiming that lower-sugar and sugar-free Coca-Cola products could be part of the obesity solution was roundly criticized.

After PepsiCo agreed to remove an additive from its Gatorade sports drinks following a flurry of consumer complaints, an online petition was started to ask Coca-Cola to do the same with its Powerade brand sports drinks.

by on Feb. 19, 2013 at 2:11 PM
Replies (11-20):
Woodbabe
by Woodie on Feb. 20, 2013 at 7:58 AM
2 moms liked this

Once again, legislating to the lowest common denominator...This is why we're declining intellectually as a society, we're obsessed with protecting the stupid from themselves. We're  getting rid of Darwinism.

It would make more sense to put warnings on diet sodas.

PamR
by Pam on Feb. 20, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Because of the litigious society we live in (although this took place in New Zealand), companies almost have to put warning labels that ought to be unnecessary on products.  How long before someone sues Coca-Cola because they didn't have a warning label on the drinks?  McDonald's has to put a warning on coffee to tell you it's hot - duh.  Soup cans tell you not to cook the soup inside the can.

talia-mom
by Gold Member on Feb. 20, 2013 at 9:38 AM
1 mom liked this

My favorite is peanut butter jars


Warning:  Allergies:  may contain peanuts.

Trollslayer
by Bronze Member on Feb. 20, 2013 at 12:08 PM

People who make bad choices are not going to head or maybe even read any type of warning label.

Ravishing_dame
by New Member on Feb. 20, 2013 at 12:27 PM

I think the invention of soda was the stupidest thing ever.  Everywhere you go in the States, soda is everywhere.  It's the only thing people seem to drink when they eat.  My daughters have never had a soda.  I haven't had one in nearly 10 years.  People seriously need to get a clue about this crap they drink

USBrit
by Bronze Member on Feb. 20, 2013 at 3:52 PM

too much of anything is bad for you.........do any of us use the brains that we have now. Soda with sugar.....bad. Soda with aspartame.....worse! So basically if your drinks are not make with stevia.........you are drinking calories, or cancer....you decide!

Bigmetalchicken
by Silver Member on Feb. 20, 2013 at 3:58 PM

OMG. If we are going to put warning labels on soda because of this woman, I hope this is what it says:  "Attention! You would have to be an idiot to think Drinking over a gallon of this a day will not cause health issues, but in case you are that stupid, please be advised that drinking this in abundance is not good for you."

Bigmetalchicken
by Silver Member on Feb. 20, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Off topic, but I love your avi, Pam.  Also, I thought you might get a kick out of this:


LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Feb. 20, 2013 at 4:21 PM

A friend was leading a Scout winter camp, and had an idiot boy airlifted out because he was dehydrated from drinking nothing but Coke all weekend.

They are ordered to drink a minimum of 2 litres of water every day, and all the twit heard was 'liquid'. 

In the face of being told directly about the dangers of not drinking enough WATER, and how other beverages do not count, this idiot endangered his own life.

I suspect a warning label would have been every bit as effective.

LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Feb. 20, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Interestingly, it was initially concocted as patent medicine (all of them, from ginger ale to 7up) --and sold because they work.

Cola syrup is a very effective anti-emetic, rehydration beverage and anti-diarrheal, which is important in a time when diarrhea still killed half the children...

Quoting Ravishing_dame:

I think the invention of soda was the stupidest thing ever.  Everywhere you go in the States, soda is everywhere.  It's the only thing people seem to drink when they eat.  My daughters have never had a soda.  I haven't had one in nearly 10 years.  People seriously need to get a clue about this crap they drink


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