Obesity epidemic prompts company to build larger caskets

Funeral directors see demand for wider caskets

Doctors said America’s obesity epidemic is getting worse, and the increase in obesity cases is prompting some companies to change their products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a dramatic increase in obesity cases over the past 20 years. Around the country, more than a third of adults are obese. In Wisconsin, 26 percent of people are obese. The numbers have some companies catering to the overweight.

Beaver Dam-based Northwood’s Casket Company is catering to funeral directors who are demanding caskets wider than the average 24 inches.

Inside a small Columbus shop, veteran woodworker Jack Rhodes is working to build larger caskets. He has been working with Northwood’s Casket Company since its beginning.

“I got into making caskets in 2004 when my grandfather died,” said Jonas Zahn, of Northwood’s Casket Company.

Zahn sells caskets to 150 funeral homes statewide, all of them demanding one thing.

“Every funeral director we talk to says, ‘Wow, your casket is large. That’s good; it’s going to be more universally used. Can you make it bigger?'” said Zahn.

His caskets are already 24 inches wide, 4 inches bigger than caskets from 50 years ago. He said there are plans to make them another 4 inches roomier for those who need it most.

“I don’t think the materials or the caskets are sad; I think what’s sad is people’s life expectancy is shorter today given our dietary habits,” said Zahn.

He said bigger people need bigger products like shoes, cars and caskets.

“I don’t think it matters how big we make it, the question will always be, ‘Can we make it bigger?'” explained Zahn.

But average, concrete burial vaults are only 30 inches wide, forcing consumers to either buy another plot or move cemeteries.

The company is one of only about 30 in the country that sells “green” caskets. Using wood that would otherwise be mulch, environmentally safe paint and just glue, no screws, is keeping Zahn busy.


If he stays on track, craftsman Jack Rhodes said he will create a casket a day.

“We support local business and local craftsman, like Jack, and we support local funeral homes, and they can help support us,” said Zahn.

The company said it also plants 100 trees for every casket it makes. Last year, Northwood’s Casket Company paired with the Department of Natural Resources and planted most of them in state forests.  

For more information on Northwood’s Casket Company, go to http://www.northwoodscasket.com.