Obesity has become a significant
concern of modern society, and the effects of obesity are already impacting
upon our health care industries in the United States. But how is
the growing obesity rate impacting upon the death care industry?
Supersize My Funeral’: How is
the Obesity Epidemic in the U.S. impacting on the Funeral Industry?
Most caskets are generally a
standard size and cannot accommodate a person who is significantly overweight,
therefore an “oversize” casket is required. The standard size casket
has already increased from 24 inches to 27 inches. Oversize caskets not
only require more materials, but are currently still something of a specialist
product and often made only custom-made on request. Ergo – they cost
more! Casket companies such as Goliath Caskets have emerged to cater
to this market, and build caskets up to 52 inches wide that can hold a
person between 800 and 1000 lbs. You can expect to pay anything up
from $2,500 to purchase an oversize casket.
|What does it mean if you
are fat and need a funeral? How do funeral directors have to change
practices to accommodate the growing number of obese corpses? Needless
to say it means a greater cost to arrange a funeral for a ‘larger than
average’ size person.
I use the term “average”
loosely these days, as how we define an average size person has to be redefined
when over one third (*35.7%) of Americans are categorized as “clinically
obese”. When we add to this the growing childhood obesity rates,
with just over 12.5 million young people aged 2 – 19 years already classified
as obese, and we are at an epoch when “average” size is no longer a standard
it once was. Government watchdogs forecast that by 2030 at least
50% of the U.S. population will be obese.
Apart from the obvious implication,
which is that obesity can result in an earlier death, the costs of arranging
a funeral for an obese person can far exceed the cost for an average funeral.
Why is this?
The funeral director will
wish to ensure that he can still deliver dignified and equitable professional
services for an overweight client who has deceased. In order to ensure
that this can be delivered certain factors have to be taken into account.
Obviously a wider casket means
that you require a larger grave plot, and if required a larger vault-liner.
Generally single plots in a cemetery are 3 foot wide by 8 foot in length.
Some cemeteries are adapting by offering larger single plots that are 4
foot wide by 10 foot long, but these are not always available and some
cemeteries will require that two co-joined single plots may be required
to accommodate an oversize casket. Where a person has pre-purchased
a cemetery plot but cannot then fit into it, this can cause all sorts of
complications, and often result in the family having to purchase a new
plot and try and re-sell the existing plot.
A larger, and heavier, casket
will also require consideration for transportation. Many hearse manufacturers
now have to consider offering a hearse in their range that is wider with
a larger rear door, and a reinforced chassis. If a funeral home does
not have a suitable vehicle, other options for transportation may have
to be considered. A funeral director may have to contract in additional
transportation provision at an incremental cost. In some cases alternative
transportation such as a horse and carriage can be employed to transport
an oversize casket.
As we all know, moving a large
inanimate object is extremely difficult! Traditionally most funeral
homes move the deceased around by simply using manpower and employing basic
lifting and moving techniques. A traditional funeral that requires
pallbearers to carry the casket cannot be facilitated so easily if the
deceased is overweight, as there are risks to consider for the staff carrying
the casket, who could be liable to back injuries. Today many funeral
homes have begun to employ more sophisticated lifting, winching and trolley
equipment to assist in the movement of corpses and caskets. In the
case of an oversize corpse, it is likely that either more staff or more
equipment will be required, and of course this will ordinarily incur additional
costs. We are so conscious about health and safety in our ‘blame
and claim’ culture, that I should imagine more stringent insurance policies
and body-handling procedures will have to come into play as funeral homes
have to handle the increasing number of overweight bodies.
Most crematories are designed
to handle a ‘standard’ size body. When dealing with overweight corpses
many issues arise – firstly the door and chamber size may not accommodate,
the extra fat in the body requires a higher temperature and a longer process
to complete the cremation process, so more powerful burners are required
and more energy and gas is consumed. All leading, of course, to an
increased cost. Many funeral businesses and crematoriums are opting
to upgrade their crematory to be able to cope with this rise in size, however,
if you find that is not an option with your local funeral director, then
you may have to incur additional costs to transport the body to a facility
that can offer this.
All in all you can expect
a ‘supersize’ funeral to cost anything between $800 and $3,000 more than
a standard funeral, something many families have not planned for or even
considered, until faced with the task of arranging the funeral.
Some industry critics say
that the funeral industry has not yet adapted to prepare for this cultural
shift. Many in the industry claim that given the current economic
climate, and the price competition brought about by firms offering budget
cremations, it is difficult for them to invest in upgrading their equipment
without incurring increased operational costs.
What some consumers have
found is that if you have to arrange a funeral for a loved one who was
overweight, it is best to compare prices between funeral homes. A
number of funeral homes have had experience in handling ‘supersize’ funerals
and therefore already have strategies and resources in place, thereby reducing
the overall incremental costs. For example, a family in Ohio recently
found that the first funeral home they approached to handle the funeral
of their deceased father who weighed 696 lbs were quoted the price of $20,000
due to additional charges for a custom-made casket, burial vault and the
need for two burial plots. However, by telephoning around they found
a funeral home that could do the funeral for them for $7,922 due to the
fact that they already stocked a large-size casket, and negotiated with
the cemetery to fit the casket into a single plot.
America is on a ‘supersize’
trajectory, and those funeral businesses that adapt to meet this demand
could certainly be gaining themselves a competitive market edge.
For those funeral homes, and consumers, who have not yet considered the
implications of a ‘supersize’ funeral – now could be a good time to start
adapting or making plans.
* CDC.gov: Data &
Statistics on Obesity
||Expert Author: Sara
Sara is the Editor in Chief
for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death
care industry in the US for the last 5 years.
Revised: October 30th