Waistlines are rapidly growing across the Bay of Plenty and increasing obesity rates mean coffins are getting bigger and a new cremator has been ordered to cope with bigger bodies. Cira Olivier reports.
Coffins as large as bookshelves and a new cremator ordered to accommodate larger bodies are part of a new reality for funeral directors adapting to rising obesity rates.
More than two-thirds of the Bay of Plenty population is overweight or obese.
Ministry of Health data showed in 2016/17, one in three adult New Zealanders over 15 years was classed as obese, and one in 10 children. By comparison, the data (the most recent available) showed 70 per cent of the Bay was overweight or obese, 6 per cent more than five years earlier.
The obesity rates result in a greater risk of acute and long-term health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, several common cancers, osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and reproductive abnormalities.
Such rates have prompted the World Health Organisation to describe the global prevalence of obesity as an epidemic.
Medical professionals are not the only ones seeing the effects of the epidemic, and coffins up to the size of a bookshelf have not gone unnoticed.
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Elliotts Funeral Services director Kylie Sprague said larger coffins were now used more than the standard coffin.
"We are needing more oversized than we did five years ago."
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The largest coffin they had on site was nearly half a metre deep, 1.6m wide and weighed 50kg.
In terms of dealing with the body, she said it was "a lot less dignified".
"If you have an extra-large person, you're going to need more people to transfer from the bed to the stretcher and sometimes that can seem quite undignified when you've got a lot of people in there ... and that's the same with preparing and dressing the deceased."
For staff, physical strength was a key aspect of the role.
"In the past it would be a one-off and every so often we'd need to use a bigger casket but now we're finding that quite often we're having to use our slightly oversized more," she said.
Larger caskets also meant larger bills. Prices of coffins went up in increments and, depending on the size, could be between $200 and $500 more.
Cemetery operations assistant Andrew Graham said there was an oversize fee of $203 for caskets wider than 720mm wide and 2080mm long. For caskets wider than 1200mm, a second plot needed to be purchased.
The first example of this was in 2003, when a casket was 1600mm wide and 2500mm long, and the second was this year, for a casket measuring 1800mm wide and 2000mm
Both were moved and lowered with a Hiab truck loader crane because they were too big to carry and lower by hand using straps or lowering device.
The standard plot size was also growing. Graham said Pyes Pa Memorial Park had to increase the plot size from 1050mm to 1100mm in 1998 and to 1200mm in 2014 to adjust to the increase in casket sizes.
"We could see our plots increase to 1400mm in the future."
This was not without challenges.
"Burials take longer to dig and use more fuel with our equipment as a result. We also have to take more dirt away from the gravesite and return it when the burial has taken place."
The crematorium has purchased a new cremator with a door measuring 1200mm to fit larger caskets.
Cremations for a bigger person took longer and the process used more fuel.
For people who created their own coffins with the Kiwi Coffin Club, they did not always fit it by the time they died.
The charitable trust, based in Rotorua, helped people around the Bay of Plenty and New Zealand design and create their own coffins.
Club treasurer Ron Wattam said coffin sizes had increased by about 5 per cent in his seven years working for the trust, and the standard depth had gone from 300mm to 350mm.
"Their puku, their tummies, have gotten bigger and bigger."
The average shoulder width was now between 570mm and 600mm.
Wattam said it was "safe to say" many overweight people they helped create coffins were dying because of health complications.
"They're not dying of old age because none of those people are anywhere near 70," he said.
Fire and Emergency NZ Bay of Plenty Coast area commander Kevin Cowper said crews were sometimes called to "lift and assist", which sometimes meant helping move obese people.
Cowper said while it did happen, he had not noticed an increase in being called to help with heavier people.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board has been approached for comment and the questions have been lodged under the Official Information Act.