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Janet Rudd was just being helpful when she agreed to take part in what she thought was a bit of lighthearted fun -- a marshmallow-eating contest known as chubby bunny at the Western Fair in London, Ont.

It was a decision that led to her death, and many observers wonder why this game, which killed a 12-year-old girl at an Illinois school in 1999, is still being played.

Janet and her twin Jennifer, 32, were strolling at the fairgrounds Tuesday evening when they were approached by a fair organizer who needed two people for a contest.

The game calls for participants to stuff their mouths with marshmallows until they can no longer say the words "chubby bunny." As more marshmallows are added, the words become increasingly garbled, which is meant to entertain the crowd.

Janet, described as a kind, gentle woman who liked to crochet and lived with her parents, agreed to take part.

Jennifer declined, but watched her sister take the stage with seven other contestants. She made it through the first round with one marshmallow in her mouth. Jennifer then returned to the horticultural booth where the twins were working as volunteers.

A few minutes later, after putting four marshmallows in her mouth, Janet quit the contest and walked away from the stage. Fair officials say she spat out a wad of thick, white goop before leaving, and was 10 metres from the stage before she signalled for help.

She collapsed, unable to breathe. A crowd gathered around her. First-aid workers tried to perform CPR and called an ambulance. The local ambulance service was on scene within minutes, but couldn't revive her. According to Chris Darby, duty manager for Thames ambulance, Janet went into cardiac arrest.

He says there was little the emergency services could do to help.

One of the most dangerous aspects of this contest, he said, is that participants can laugh or cough when their mouths are crammed with thick, melting marshmallows.

"You breathe in at the wrong time and you draw a huge airway obstruction down into your airway that is essentially self-sealing," he said. "It's like spraying Styrofoam in there."

The coroner's office is investigating the incident.

The chubby bunny contest, which once ran alongside country-fair staples such as the potato- and apple-peeling contests, has been cancelled. Fair manager Dave Taylor said it won't return next year.

"It was programming that was unfortunate," Mr. Taylor said. "I would imagine we wouldn't be having that one again out of respect for the family of the deceased."

Joseph Hageman, a pediatric intensive-care specialist in Evanston, Ill., who wrote a journal article about chubby bunny, is surprised that it was played at a public fair.

"It's really not a game. It's incredibly dangerous. It's something people shouldn't be doing," Dr. Hageman said.

Dr. Hageman's article was a response to the death of 12-year-old Casey Fish, a Grade 6 student from the Chicago suburbs who died after playing chubby bunny at school.

Casey's father, John Fish, has waged a long battle to alert people to the dangers of the game.

"The game is insane," Mr. Fish said in a telephone interview. "You have these esophagus-sized plugs and you're not allowed to chew them or swallow them, but your saliva's acting on them and making them slippery -- I mean it's inevitable that someone is going to die."

Mr. Fish said he had been consoled by the fact he hadn't heard of any other deaths related to chubby bunny, but was deeply sorry to hear of Janet Rudd's death.

"I did everything that I could to try and stop this game. I'm very sorry for the loss of this woman and my heart goes out to her family," he said.

"We appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and she reran the segment twice. . . . Two of those segments, she ended her show pointing at the camera saying 'Don't play chubby bunny.' The American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a nationwide alert against this game after my daughter's death."

Mr. Fish sued the teacher, the school and the school district. They agreed to a $2-million settlement.

The Rudd family hasn't yet decided whether to take legal action. A funeral is planned for next week.