Extra-large casket market grows fat

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NEW YORK (AP) – From the cradle to the grave and most points between, obesity has found its niche in American marketing. Make that a wide berth.

Baby seats, doorways and caskets are but a few examples from a long list of life’s accouterments that are getting much bigger to accommodate much bigger people. There are also vacation resorts for those embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit.

At Freedom Paradise on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, the chairs are wider and without arms, to prevent getting stuck; the beds are king-sized and reinforced, to prevent collapsing; and the beach is private and secluded, to prevent gawking and staring.

“You should not be embarrassed by how big you are,” said William Fabrey, whose online business “Amplestuff” offers larger versions of everyday things from umbrellas to footstools. “You can’t just yell at someone and tell them to lose weight. You’re already dealing with people who think they have no worth.

“They still have to sit down on a chair that doesn’t collapse,” he said.

Like others in this small but growing group of businesses, Fabrey started his company after discussions with an overweight friend. “She was a big woman, and she said, ‘There’s got to be an easier way to get through the day.’ “

To make living large a little easier, Fabrey sells lotion applicators and sponges attached to handles – enabling the user to reach all parts of the body; handbooks on hygiene with tips on dealing with odor problems, chafing and irritations caused by skin folds. His business also provides links to physicians and medical services.

“We don’t take any position on whether someone should lose weight,” Fabrey said. “That’s up to the person.”

Seemingly every day, another study appears that shows the United States is becoming a country of fat people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 71 percent of men weigh too much, along with about 61 percent of women and 33 percent of children.

As Americans grow in weight, their life expectancy becomes shorter – by as much as five years, according to the latest national statistics – more than the impacts of heart disease and cancer. Obesity is fast approaching tobacco as the No. 1 cause of preventable death.

The price tag to taxpayers, according to the CDC, is a whopping $117 billion a year, a figure that some health experts dispute, claiming the government numbers are based on faulty data. Not disputed, according to obesity specialists, is the amount Americans spend trying to get thinner – $33 billion a year.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona sounded a dire warning last month, telling university students in South Carolina “obesity is the terror within,” and that unless people start getting thinner, “the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9-11 or any other terrorist attempt.”

Such pronouncements help fuel criticism that catering to bigger people really means throwing wide the door to death by overeating.

But for those who are overweight, who know full well how it feels to be sneered at, laughed at, pitied and scorned, having a simple tool such as a sponge on a stick, or a sturdy footstool that can bear up to 500 pounds, makes one feel a little more human. And a little less demonized.

Joan Borgos weighed 350 pounds for 28 years, until she had gastric bypass surgery and lost 200 pounds. She began putting out LargeDirectory.com because there was nothing available “that didn’t look like a muu muu from Lane Bryant’s,” she said.

From her home in Massachusetts, she lists clothing catalogs, bridal shops (for gowns up to size 32), plus-size dating services, counseling services, seat belt extenders and lingerie. She recently added listings for teens, after desperate mothers told her they couldn’t find stylish clothes for their overweight adolescents.

Even toddlers have joined the overweight ranks, with car seat manufacturers offering the “Husky,” which is 10 pounds heavier and four inches wider than the standard size.

“There are all kinds of theories that abound about why people are getting heavier,” said Borgos. “People are more sedentary, people eat more junk food and get less exercise. I don’t know what it is.

“But it’s a constant level of stress to live as an overweight person. You’re always scoping out the environment, looking if you’re going to be able to fit. “

Kelly Bliss, a self-described “chubby chick” in suburban Philadelphia offers “plus-size fitness and lifestyle coaching.”

Which means, she says, encouraging overweight clients to exercise as best they can, to eat healthily and to not focus on losing pounds.

“People cannot just stop being fat,” she says. “It’s prejudice when you say a fat person does not need things to make them comfortable,” she says. “People crumble when you given them even more pressure on top of a life that’s already not working.”

To make caring for the overweight ill easier, and to make patients more comfortable, there also are specialized medical products for an ever-growing clientele.

Treating the obese is called bariatric care, from Greek root meaning weight. Providing it means hospitals are paying for wider beds, wider wheelchairs, wider doorways, longer needles and bigger CT scan machines. As well as larger gowns and extra-sized slippers.

And for the end of life’s road, coffin makers have introduced new lines with higher-gauge steel and widths of up to 28 inches, from the standard 24.

In Indiana, the Batesville Casket Co. calls it “a little extra room for life’s final journey.”

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