Can You Be Too Fat For Cremation?

Cremating corpses takes a lot more work than you might think, and even more complications arise when dealing with large bodies.  So how do you handle your death if you’re on the larger side?  We decided to find out.

You can be too fat for cremation, but the funeral business has found solutions to help accommodate the morbidly obese to alleviate this issue in the near future.  78 million adults and 13 million kids in the US alone struggle with weight management, leading to more doctor visits and money spent on clothing and food.  Obesity creates higher costs after death, too, but to understand why you first have to learn how cremation works.

shutterstock_31880062When a body gets cremated, it starts in a box made out of cardboard and plywood. The box is put into the cremation chamber, or retort, which is made out of fire resistant bricks. The retort door is then closed, then the retort is put into it’s warm up cycle. The body is incinerated, making temperatures rise to up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. The body sits inside for up to two hours until the body is finally reduced to bone fragments. Once the machine is cool enough to touch, the remains are moved to a work area where operators remove metal debris like crowns, surgical pins, etc. that might’ve been in the body with a magnet. The bones that are left are put into a processor that pulverizes the bones into a fine powder, which is what is referred to as “ashes”. 

Now that we know how a standard cremation is done, why does being fat make it more difficult? When you have a body that is mostly muscle, that means you have a lot of lean tissue. Lean tissue gives out about 1000 BTU worth of heat per pound. Compare that to fatty tissue, which per pound can give out close to 20,000 BTU. With fat burning much much hotter than muscle, it’s no wonder why cremating someone who was morbidly obese can be such a danger.

There are several famous stories of people being too obese for cremation and causing grease fires. We reached out to our expert Jeff Joregenson who owns Elemental Cremation & Burial in Seattle, WA, to give us a further insight into the complications one might have:

The most dramatic problem with overweight cremation is creating a runaway grease fire, although a seasoned operator knows how to avoid this. Less overtly dramatic is the movement of the deceased when they get that large. Just transferring them from a stretcher to a lift, or placing them in the retort is not without risk. It often takes multiple people and puts people at higher risk for back and other injuries. I haven’t seen, or heard of an instance, where a decedent has fallen on an employee, but it would be a horrible day to be crushed by the morbidly obese.


There are only a few options available to people that are morbidly obese (or anyone for that matter). If you can’t cremate, you have to bury. Much like buying an airline seat though, you may be buying multiple graves and an oversized casket if you don’t fit into a standard size space. Generally any sort of willed body program will dismiss the obese out of hand owing to the complications that go along with that.

Basically, extra large dead bodies cause grease fires, serious injuries to crematory staff, and come with higher costs for grieving families. If you struggle with morbid obesity, you’ll find no better solution during life and after death than weight loss through diet and exercise.  If you can’t downsize easily, just plan ahead so your loved ones know what to do and have the money to pay for the funeral.  That way they can say goodbye without the added financial and emotional stress of a complicated cremation.

Image courtesy of