American undertakers offer 'super-size' coffins as population piles on the pounds

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The Independent US

Even in death, overweight people can sometimes struggle to find something that fits.

But in the US at least, coffin makers are waking up to the demands of an increasingly obese population. Anecdotal evidence suggests that across America, as people get bigger, so are their burial caskets.

"It's not exactly rocket science that people have been getting larger - that's been well known for 30 years," said Allen Steadham, director of the International Size-Acceptance Association, a Texas-based support group for the obese. "People are living larger and they're dying larger, and industries have to adapt to that situation."

Keith and Julane Davis, who run the Goliath Casket company in Lynn, Indiana, said that when they set up business in the late 1980s they would sell just one triple-width coffin a year. Nowadays every month they ship four or five of these vast caskets - 44in across, as opposed to a standard 24in, and capable of holding a body weighing up to 700lbs without "losing its integrity".

Mrs Davis said the design specifications had been developed by simple observation. She told The New York Times: "It's just going to local restaurants or walking in a normal Wal-Mart. People are getting wider and they're getting thicker." America's large portions and fast-food culture have led to a population in which 20 per cent of people are now considered obese, up from 12.5 per cent in 1991. Of people aged 70 and over, the demographic that is of most interest to the funeral industry, 17 per cent are deemed obese.

Other coffin makers confirm the size increase and say that - just like the airline industry - they are having to make a lot of adjustments. "Many people in this country no longer fit in the standard-size casket," said David Hazelett of Astral Industries, another Indiana-based coffin builder.

"The standard-size casket is meant to go in the standard-size vault, and the standard-size vault is meant to go into the standard-size cemetery plot. Everyone in the industry is aware of the problem," he said.