Chewing gum linked to girl's death

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

"I think there is a potential for this much chewing gum to cause this problem, but it’s not hard fact," said pathologist, Dr Paul Griffiths.
"I think there is a potential for this much chewing gum to cause this problem, but it’s not hard fact," said pathologist, Dr Paul Griffiths.

Related tags: Sugar substitute, Xylitol

Chewing gum may have been responsible for the death of a 19-year old girl – but there is little evidence to suggest artificial sweeteners were at fault, a UK inquest found yesterday.

Samantha Jenkins began suffering violent convulsions in June 2011 and was taken to hospital, where she later died. Around the time of her death she had been consuming around 14 sticks of chewing gum each day.

Speaking at the inquest held yesterday in Swansea, coroner Colin Phillips, said: "Excessive consumption of chewing gum may have played a role in inducing this lack of minerals or mineral depletion."

A narrative verdict was recorded.

Malabsorption of minerals

The pathologist, Dr Paul Griffiths, confirmed that Jenkins had low levels of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium, and noted that by eating 14 sticks of chewing gum per day Jenkins would have been consuming about 16.8 grams of artificial sweeteners – ‘ a substantial amount’, ​he said.

But while Jenkins' mother, Maria Morgan said she believed excessive amounts of aspartame and sorbital to have caused her daughter's death, Griffiths said there was little hard evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners were to blame.

“There is very little evidence. There is only two case reports about weight loss. No one has actually died as a result of chewing gum. I think there is a potential for this much chewing gum to cause this problem, but it’s not hard fact,” ​he said.

Instead he suggested that large lumps of chewing gum found in Jenkins’ stomach may have prevented the minerals from being absorbed.

Maria Morgan told the inquest: “I just want answers for my beautiful little girl so that we as a family can finally have closure and that maybe the public response could mean changes in awareness of these additives, warning on packets and educating families on the dangers of these additives.”

Mondelez, which produces Trident chewing gum, said: “This was clearly a tragic event for Samantha’s family. Although we understand the coroner did reference our on-pack warning about excessive consumption, it would be inappropriate to comment further until we read the coroner’s actual narrative.”

The pathologist's report has been handed over to a health-monitoring body which will then decide whether further investigation is necessary.

In 2012 the global chewing gum market was valued at €23.5 bn.

Related topics: Gum, Regulation & Safety

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