Obesity Epidemic Spurs Demand for Oversized Caskets

As Americans grow larger, the funeral industry accommodates them.

ByABC News
January 3, 2011, 5:43 PM

Jan. 4, 2011— -- The fatter Americans get, the more businesses stretch to accommodate them; even funeral homes, and casket and mortuary lift retailers.

"This is, unfortunately, a sign of the times, both experienced in life and after death," said Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "We're seeing the widening of seats, the widening of cup holders and, now, the widening of caskets."

About one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. About 17 percent of children and teens are obese, triple the rate from a generation ago.

As one generation grows older, another one begins to die off. And with that death comes casket and funeral needs.

Keith Davis, owner of Goliath Caskets, a Lynn, Ind.-based company that "serves the oversize casket needs of bigger people," said his business has grown considerable in the past two decades.

"We're, unfortunately, a necessary frustration," Davis said. "A lot of times, a person's obese loved one has passed away, and they're not sure where to turn for help."

Goliath Caskets creates and sells caskets starting at 29 inches wide; they can run up to 52 inches wide and 8 feet long.

Even the standard casket size has grown from 24 inches to about 27 inches. Davis said the typical size changed about 15 years ago as people became increasingly overweight and obese.

"When we first started in 1990, 36 inches was the widest casket out there," Davis said. "Now we're up to 52 inches wide, which can hold someone who weighs 800 to 1,000 pounds."

Davis said he hadn't expected to sell more than one 52-inch casket when he made it in the mid-1990s.

"We sold 11 that first year, and we fluctuate from six to 12 of the biggest ones each year," he continued.

Davis sells about three to four various oversized caskets per week.

Large Options Common Among Retailers

But it's not just a few specific companies that cater to obese customers. Almost every casket manufacturer has some kind of large option for people who cannot fit into a standard sized casket.

Tim Calderon, owner of Casket Connection in San Antonio, Texas, sells a wide variety of caskets to people across the country. When Calderon first joined the funeral industry about 10 years ago, it was pretty rare to have an oversized casket order.

"Now, I'd say probably every 10th call is someone who needs an oversize casket," he said. "And even some of our oversize caskets aren't big enough to accommodate the person."

Calderon said Casket Connection now stocks the larger caskets to accommodate the growing demand.

"A lot of companies are moving in that direction," Calderon said. "We have to or we'd be losing about 10 percent of our income."

Most oversized caskets do not cost much more than the standard size, he said. But it is additional expenses that make funerals costly.

Stones, grave openings and closing, vaults, flowers, transportation and the service itself can substantially increase the total price.

"And all those things can become an issue because a person is larger," Davis of Goliath Caskets said.

After selecting the casket, funeral directors measure the cadaver's body width from elbow to elbow. But in obesity cases, they measure elbows, the waist and thickness of body, Davis said.