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Published: Sunday, 10/19/2003

The newest thing: fat caskets

EVERY trend, health or not, offers an opportunity to make money. And so it is with fat.

As sales of greasy fast food expand American waistlines, all manner of people profit, those who deal with the living, and those who cater to the dead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 20 percent of adults in this nation are obese. For those 70 and older, 17 percent are.

Today the Too Fat Polka of yesteryear can be sung of men as well as women, and it's making final send-offs difficult for families who have to bargain with cemeteries for larger plots, and for undertakers who must devise polite euphemisms for telling families that their loved one won't fit in a standard casket.

How bad is it?

Goliath Casket of Lynn, Ind., specializes in oversize caskets. Its triple-wides, 44 inches across with extra bracing, reinforced hinges and handles, can accommodate a corpse weighing up to 700 pounds. In the late 1980s, when its owners started the business, they sold one triple-wide a year. Now they're shipping four or five a month.

The airline industry has also been asked to revisit its weight estimates because travelers are heavier now, which suggests higher ticket prices.

In the Bronx, the Woodlawn Cemetery has increased its standard burial plot from two to four feet to accommodate wider vaults and its new mausoleum has four crypts for oversized caskets.

For the funeral business, our bulging waistlines represent economic opportunity. It's a bloodcurdling thought. And if that's not reason enough to diet and take a few hikes around the block every day, it's hard to imagine what is.

Maybe if the airlines started charging passengers by the pound, we'd finally see some progress.

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