New Zealand’s obesity problem is extending into the afterlife with funeral directors, casket builders and cemeteries forced to make changes to accommodate larger waistlines.

Ed Campbell, owner of New Zealand’s largest coffin manufacturer, Western Caskets, says his company has broadened its standard casket from 51cm to 53cm, in order to handle the increased number of bigger bodies. “The fact is people are getting bigger,” Campbell said.

He has been building caskets for 40 years and says demand for larger sizes is increasing. “We’re selling more of the extra oversize caskets these days – 10 years ago we’d get three or four requests in a year for extra oversize caskets – but now we’d sell that in a month. “It’s becoming more frequent and we’re getting calls more often, so now we always keep one of our largest in stock in case a call comes through.”

An oversize casket can weigh up to 100kg and measure a metre across the lid. Campbell said the biggest coffin he had made was for a man who weighed 430kg. The box was 1.8m wide, 1m deep and 2m long. Bob Russell, spokesman for Davis Funeral Services, says his profession is better equipped now to deal with larger bodies. Russell said sending three people to transfer a large person is now common for his company, but is unsure how smaller funeral companies cope with bigger jobs.

“Not all funeral directors send two people, let alone three. Some simply don’t have the resources – it’s just that we’re one of the biggest in the country that we can afford to.”To offer dignity to the deceased and their family, we will send three people if we know the deceased is larger than normal.”

West Auckland’s Waikumete Cemetery manager Daniel Sales said safety for grieving families is an issue when larger graves are needed.

“What we were finding when we dug walls was they were getting thinner as a result of the growing casket size, so there’s a real danger if walls are cut too thin and too deep. “What happens is they blow out,” says Sales.

Larger caskets are designated to the ends of rows to allow for more room on the sides for family to stand. “The last thing you want is the walls collapsing when there’s family standing around the casket,” says Sales. Other precautions are being taken. A concrete beam may run across the bottom of each row to strengthen the earth, and more space can be allowed between graves.

The cemetery also spent $40,000 on a machine that reinforces the walls during the excavation process. Gravesites cost between $2800 and $4000 at the West Auckland cemetery, while larger sites incur a fee of $290 to cover the extra work involved in excavation.

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