Now that nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults are considered obese, the nation’s funeral business professionals, and those supplying and supporting them, must make room for change – literally.

A Marketplace Trend Too Big to Ignore: According to recent data reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), nearly 40 percent of the nation’s adult population is now considered clinically obese. The JAMA report cites a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large-scale federal survey approved by the National Center for Health Statistics research ethics review board, in which standardized measurements of weight and height were collected and assessed.

NHANES’s The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America 2018, states that the trend in obesity shows a marked increase when compared with statistics the organization collected just a decade ago. The scale of the problem is hard to ignore and many industries engaged in ergonomic design have had to rethink, if not reengineer everything from automotive seatbelts to office furniture and of course, medical equipment to aid in the treatment of weight-related illnesses of heart disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer.

There may be nowhere to go but up. If predictions based on research conducted by Columbia University in New York and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom are correct, 50 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030.

Meeting the Growing Challenge with Compassion and Business Acumen: To accommodate the unique funeral needs of this new wave of obese decedents and their families, the death care industry faces challenges on a multitude of levels. Not only will early adopters have a competitive advantage from the start, they will leave their less responsive colleagues to fight over a shrinking market for the care of smaller decedents.

“Who wants to inform the grieving family of an obese loved one that their need can’t be met at their preferred facility,” said Katherine Symonds-Salyards, principal partner of Symonds Funeral Homes and The Lakes Crematory. “Not only can forethought and planning help industry professionals avoid a perceived final insult of fat shaming, they can help the bereaved by normalizing and dignifying their experience and can fairly profit by doing so.”

Along with her brother, Mark Symonds, Symonds-Salyards runs a multifaceted operation that specializes in serving the needs of larger decedents in northern Illinois, including metropolitan Chicago and portions of Wisconsin within a 100-mile radius.

Making It Big: Far ahead of the curve, the team has been eying the obesity problem as a business opportunity since the 90s. By consistently focusing their attention and investing in new technologies, they have built a significant portion of their business on a foundation of helping other death care providers cope with the influx of larger remains. Two of their most robust service segments include the intra-facility transportation of remains and cremation of large-scale remains.

Mark Symonds explains that it all starts with appropriate transportation of decedents. “Traditional cots and modes of transportation simply weren’t designed to accommodate larger remains and you’re at a standstill unless you’re able to convey remains in a dignified manner. We’ve invested in technology that enables us to more easily facilitate the loading and transport of oversized cots, as well as combinations of cots and cremation containers, air trays and caskets on multiple levels.”

Symonds adds that transporting multiple sets of remains in a single vehicle makes that vehicle and its driver highly productive. “By expanding our vehicle capacity, we’ve reduced labor and fuel costs.” he said.

Katherine Symonds-Salyards points to their investment in large-capacity cremation chambers as a key to their support strategy. “We now have eight retorts and were recently able to accommodate a decedent who weighed 1,038 pounds. There is a significant demand for our services and our unique expertise, I don’t see it diminishing anytime soon.”

Other areas of the death care business that are now being and will continue to be impacted by obesity trends include lifting equipment, casket/coffin size and grave plot dimensions. With the need for expanded services and the use of more materials and resources, come added costs. The winners will be those death care professionals who figure out the best way to meet the growing marketplace demand associated with the ever-growing American consumer, with both compassion and an innovative spirit. FBA

Lynn Blake is National Account Manager CMP Products for Link Manufacturing. Link CMP is the leader in professional human remains transportation technology and the developer of the DD2000-XLC, the industry’s first double-deck system for cargo vans and the first capable of accommodating the transport of multiple large decedents. To contact Blake, please call Toll Free: (800) 248-3057, Mobile: (636) 248-5210, email her at [email protected] or visit