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Can I get life insurance if I’m overweight?

Being overweight or obese can drive up your premiums, but life insurance isn't out of reach.

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In the US, 39.8% of adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since obesity is linked to a host of health issues, insurers are cautious about offering policies to people who are overweight. But if you can prove you’re otherwise healthy, you might be able to lower your premiums.

Can I get life insurance if I’m overweight or obese?

Yes — though you may face challenges or higher premiums, especially if you’re classified as obese.

Here’s why. If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over, you’re at a higher risk of developing health conditions that can lead to premature death — such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. To compensate for that risk and protect their bottom line, life insurance companies will typically raise your rates if you’re overweight or obese.

How will my insurer assess my weight?

Life insurance underwriters typically use BMI as a guide to determine whether an applicant is overweight or not. Your BMI is calculated based on the following formula:

BMI = (weight (lb) / height (in)2) x 703

Based on your score, you’ll be categorised as being at an ideal weight, underweight or overweight. This is the spectrum of scores:

  • <15: Very severely underweight
  • 15-16: Severely underweight
  • 16-18: Underweight
  • 18.5-25: Normal (healthy weight)
  • 25-30: Overweight
  • 30-35: Obese Class I (moderately obese)
  • 35-40: Obese Class II (severely obese)
  • 40+: Obese Class III (very severely obese)

How does my weight affect my premium?

Every insurer has a “build chart,” which lists heights in one-inch increments, and the maximum corresponding weight an applicant can be to make it into each rate class. Your underwriter will use your BMI and the build chart to calculate your rates. Your height/weight ratio aside, your insurer will consider other factors in the underwriting process, such as your age, gender, smoking status, driving record, occupation and lifestyle habits.

Typically, the best rates are reserved for healthy people who are within healthy height/weight ranges.

If you’re overweight but don’t have any other serious health issues, you may be able to score a preferred rate. But if you’re obese, you may not be able to access the higher rate classes — meaning you’ll pay more for coverage.

How will my insurer know how much I weigh?

The life insurance application asks for your height and weight, and the insurer will confirm those numbers when you take the medical exam. Your insurer can also pull your medical records to find out whether you’ve recently gained or lost a significant amount of weight.

It’s not worth lying, either: If your insurer finds out you lied or omitted information on your application, they may cancel your policy or deny the death benefit to your loved ones.

Overall, insurers care more about your average weight than how much you weighed at a specific point in time.

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Can life insurers deny coverage based on weight?

Each insurer has its own set of underwriting standards, and some are stricter than others. In the BMI terms, you’ll typically need to be “severely obese” or “very severely obese” and facing other health problems to be turned down for coverage.

In that case, you can explore these options for coverage:

  • Guaranteed issue life insurance. These policies forgo both the medical exam and health questionnaire, and approval is guaranteed. But they’re usually capped at small amounts, like $50,000.
  • Group life insurance. If your employer offers life insurance as part of your package, consider taking them up on it. There’s no medical exam, and premiums are usually subsidized.

Can you have a high BMI but still be considered healthy?

BMI can be misleading, particularly for muscular people. It doesn’t take into account how much of your weight is muscle vs. fat, which makes it a faulty measuring system for many athletic people. If you believe your BMI is an inaccurate representation of your health, you can ask your insurer to reevaluate your rates.

It’s also important to understand that BMI is not the only factor that is considered by an insurer to determine risk. Your insurer will also consider related conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol when determining your rates.

Bottom line

Life insurance can be more difficult to qualify for if you’re overweight and obese, and you’ll likely have to pay a higher premium than someone with a lower BMI. But insurers have different underwriting guidelines, so it’s worth comparing life insurance companies to find out which one will offer you the best rate.

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