'One Chip Challenge' death autopsy report reveals 14-year-old had a heart defect — what experts say

A teen died after taking the One Chip Challenge due to a hidden heart defect. Learn about the risks and warnings.

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Dublin, CA - October 07:   A recent social media trend has caused some children to vomit, sweat profusely and their tongues turn blue after participating in the One Chip Challenge. After several students conducted the challenge at Bay Area schools, multiple principals have sent warnings to parents about the Paqui chip, which is made with Carolina Reaper and Scorpion peppers. (Photo by Sarah Dussault/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
Harris Wolobah died in September of 2023 after attempting the controversial 'One Chip Challenge.' Here's what experts say about it. (Photo by Sarah Dussault/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty)

The recent autopsy results of a Massachusetts teenager, Harris Wolobah, have reignited the controversy surrounding the "One Chip Challenge." The 10th grader from Worcester died on Sept. 1, 2023, after consuming Paqui's extremely spicy tortilla chip, as part of a social media challenge.

An autopsy revealed Wolobah had a congenital heart defect, which, combined with the high capsaicin concentration from the chip, led to his death. Capsaicin is the component that gives chili peppers their heat, and large doses can cause severe cardiovascular reactions.

In a statement to People, a representative for Paqui expressed condolences to Wolobah's family and friends. "Paqui's One Chip Challenge was intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting that the product was not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or with underlying health conditions," the company wrote.

"We saw increased reports of teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings. As a result, while the product adhered to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we worked with retailers to voluntarily remove the product from shelves in September 2023, and the One Chip Challenge has been discontinued," they added in a statement, according to People.

Although Wolobah's heart condition made him particularly vulnerable, experts warn that challenges like these can pose risks even to those without underlying health issues. Here's what you need to know.

The "One Chip Challenge" was started by Paqui, the Texas-based company making ultra-spicy tortilla chips. It's a subsidiary of Hershey. The challenge involves eating one of Paqui's single-serving, individually wrapped, spicy tortilla chips.

According to the company's website, the "One Chip Challenge" chip is seasoned with Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper peppers — two of the spiciest peppers currently available.

On the Scoville scale, used to measure the "hotness" of a pepper by measuring the amount of capsaicin, the Carolina Reaper measures in at around 1.7 million units, and the Naga Viper pepper at 1.4 million. For comparison, popular jalapeño peppers measure in between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville units, making the Carolina Reaper about 212 times hotter on the low-end.

The challenge first went viral on social media in recent years, when TikTok and YouTube creators would film themselves attempting the challenge, and in most cases, scrambling to find relief in things like milk, water or ice cream. This summer, the company released a new version of the chip, which some said was spicier.

A package of Paqui OneChipChallenge spicy tortilla chips is seen on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, in Boston. Authorities are raising the alarm about a OneChipChallenge social media trend that encourages people to avoid seeking relief from eating and drinking for as long as possible after eating the chips, days after a Massachusetts teenager died hours after taking part in the challenge. The dare is popular on social media sites, with scores of people including children unwrapping the packaging, eating the chips and reacting to the heat. (AP Photo/Steve LeBlanc)
The dare is popular on social media sites, with scores of people including children unwrapping the packaging, eating the chips and reacting to the heat. (AP Photo/Steve LeBlanc)

On Sept. 1, a teenager from Massachusetts died from what his parents blame on the "One Chip Challenge," the American Press reported. Wolobah's family said he ate the extremely spicy tortilla chip. According to the AP, "police said they were called to the home on Sept. 1 and found Wolobah 'unresponsive and not breathing.'" He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after.

AP reported at the time Wolobah is remembered as a "basketball-loving 10th grader." As his family waited for the now-released autopsy results, Paqui had recalled the product from all retailers. On its website, Paqui said it triggered the recall "out of an abundance of caution," in part.

"We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings," it said of their adults-only label on the product. "As a result, while the product continues to adhere to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves."

The company's recall prompted a public notice from Health Canada.

The federal agency said at the time the product "is being recalled from the marketplace due to reported adverse reactions," and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation. In the meantime, it said the CFIA "is verifying that industry is removing recalled products from the marketplace."

It also advises those who already have the product to throw it out or return it to the place of purchase. There have been no updates to the recall since.

Man working online at home on his laptop computer. Yahoo Canada gathered some expert and public opinions on the challenge. (Getty)
Yahoo Canada gathered some expert and public opinions on the challenge. (Getty)

"Some people are naturally more tolerant of spice because of genetics. They are just born with fewer receptors for capsaicin, which gives them a built-in tolerance for heat.

"Most people aren’t used to that level of heat and are going from zero to 100 when they do something like the ‘One Chip Challenge,’ where you eat an extremely spicy tortilla chip... It's like putting a bomb in your stomach if you’re not prepared for it," said Dr. Allan Capin for the Cleveland Clinic.

"You see a lot of likes or comments (indicating) social status or popularity from these challenges, but you don't see a lot of the negative consequences — like the trips to the E.R. or other injuries," associate professor of psychology at Florida International University Elisa Trucco told CTV.

"The chip is responsible in our eyes for whatever took place, because (Harris Wolobah) was a healthy kid.

"The conversation now is about the chip, but there will be other challenges coming and we want to make sure children know they shouldn't be participating in anything that could put them in harm's way," the CBC heard from Douglas Hill, who runs Wolobah's former basketball league.

"This One Chip Challenge is yet another reminder that just because someone challenges you to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe to do. There's very little to gain from completing such a challenge except for maybe the entertainment of others. At the same time, while many people can get through a challenge without permanent damage, there can be the risk of more serious problems — really serious problems," wrote Bruce Y. Lee in Forbes.

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