These are great times for the Goliath Casket company. Business for the small family business is ... well ... bulging. All thanks to the foresight of the company's founder. Until the 1980s, virtually every American casket-maker manufactured standard-sized coffins for the dearly departed. Back then extra-large caskets were hard to find and, being hand made, costly to buy. But in 1985, Forrest Davis, father of the company's current owner, Keith Davis, decided to become the first coffin maker to focus solely on making big caskets for big people. Quitting his job as a welder, the elder Davis told his sons: 'Boys, I'm gonna go home and build oversize caskets that you would be proud to put your mother in.' The Goliath company set up business in a converted pig barn. They offered only one colour, but boasted two sizes: big and bigger. All models came with extra bracing and reinforced hinges and handles, so no matter how large the customer inside, the casket wouldn't lose what the funeral industry calls its 'integrity'. Yes, it's finally come to this. For decades government statistics have suggested that Americans were getting bigger and fatter. Now the proof is in the pudding. First they became too portly to pull on their pants. Then they became too fat to fit in their cars or be wedged into their airline seats. And now, Americans are becoming too fat to fit into their coffins. So last year, the Goliath's company's fat-friendly staff introduced their 'triple-wide' casket. This gargantuan coffin is a comfortable 132cm wide (61cm is standard). 'We're talking about a casket bigger than a pickup truck bed that can hold 1,000 pounds,' says Goliath president Mr Davis. The company sells about 800 super-sized coffins annually, with sales expected to rise 20 per cent per year. As Americans grow ever more elephantine, virtually every aspect of their society is being forced to adapt to their corpulent requirements. While most Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are cavernous enough to accommodate the average lard-laden American, Asian-auto makers such as Toyota and Kia are having to offer special seat-belt extenders for Americans buyers too bulky to be safely contained by normal-sized seatbelts. US airlines are being weighed down, too, by the quandary of how to handle extra-plump passengers. Despite the risk of being seen as biased against the obese, some airlines have tried to charge fatties for two seats instead of one. In 2002, Southwest Airlines tried to do so, but when a portly passenger and his extra-stout sister threatened to sue, the carrier refunded their flight cost and apologised. Sixty-four per cent of Americans are now considered overweight, with 20 per cent of the nation deemed obese - that is, 23kg or more overweight. According to the Atlanta-based Centres for Disease Control, obesity will soon pass tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death. 'Obesity and being very overweight are literally killing us,' says Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who is himself on a diet. 'We need to tackle America's weight issues as aggressively as we're addressing smoking and tobacco.' Many Americans seek help from doctors, alleging their excess weight is the result of 'gland problems'. But most medical expects agree that, for the average American, the only glands out of order are their saliva glands. They simply eat too much. In the past 30 years cheese consumption, for example, has doubled - from 7kg per person per year to 14kg, says Dr Neal Barnard of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. Some people try to put the blame on fast-food restaurants. But federal lawmakers voted down a bill that would allow consumers to sue restaurants over obesity. One annoyed judge told a plaintiff: 'You can't sue McDonald's for making you fat, but maybe you can sue God for making you stupid.' Many obese Americans enter hospitals seeking liposuction, tummy tucks, or stomach stapling procedures. And as they do, normal-sized operating tables are being phased out in favour of models that can hold up to 450kg and have reinforced side rails to prevent unusually ponderous patients from spilling off the table and possibly crushing attending surgeons. US hospitals have also been forced to order XXX-Large hospital gowns so as not to expose extra fat bottoms. Oversized blood-pressure cuffs are routine, as are extra-strong steel bedside toilets for patients who weigh more than 160kg and would damage normal porcelain bathroom toilets. Weight-related accidents are also on the rise. Two summers ago, while visiting the Six Flags amusement park in New York, Mike Dwaileebe wedged himself into one of the Superman roller-coaster's cars. Mr Dwaileebe, who weighs more than 180kg, reportedly couldn't close his lap-bar properly, and while on one of the coaster's hairpin curves he flew out of his car not like a bird, or a plane, but rather, as his lawyer put it 'like a cork out of a champagne bottle'. Mr Dwaileebe was lucky. He sustained only broken ribs. A month ago, though, another obese passenger, at an amusement park in Massachusetts, was killed in a similar accident. Investigators say the man's exceptional girth got in the way of standard safety devices. While being fat in America can kill you, it can also save your life. Mitch Rupe is known as 'the Fat Man of Walla Walla'. Mr Rupe has been incarcerated in Washington State's Walla Walla Prison since 1981, when he was placed on death row for killing two bank tellers. State laws stipulate that death-row inmates have a choice of lethal injection or hanging. If they refuse to choose, they get the rope. Mr Rupe, who weighed 150kg when sentenced, refused to choose. He then began a rigorous daily programme of snacking and napping. Today, the murderous inmate tips the scales at a cell-crowding 185kg. He now claims that, for him, hanging would be considered a 'cruel and unusual punishment', which is specifically outlawed by the US Constitution. Asked if the corpulent killer could beat the rap based on his 'too heavy to hang' appeal, one prosecutor reportedly said: 'His chances of being saved by the 'fatso defence' are very slim.'