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In the US, 39.8% of adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is linked to premature death and illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. As such, 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.
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Life insurance and obesity
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. In the eyes of an insurer, this means your beneficiaries are more likely to file a claim. To compensate for that risk, life insurance companies typically raise rates for overweight and obese people.
How will an insurer know how much I weigh?
The application will ask 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. Overall, insurers care more about your average weight than how much you weighed at a specific point in time.
Critical illness insurance and obesity
Critical illness insurance will pay out a lump sum if you become unable to work because of a serious illness or injury. You can use the benefit payment to cover your everyday living expenses and any short-term or long-term debts, such as rent, mortgage payments and bills.
Critical illness insurance will likely cost more if you’re overweight, and may be difficult to get at all if you’re considered morbidly obese or if you’ve been diagnosed with another health risk. Each insurer will assess applicants differently, so it’s in your best interest to compare different providers. One provider may consider weight a more important factor than another.
How will I be assessed by an underwriter if I’m overweight?
Life insurance providers and their team of underwriters typically use BMI as a guide to assess and determine whether an applicant is overweight or not. Your BMI is calculated based on the following formula:
Your score will then determine whether you have an ideal weight, underweight or overweight, from the following classification:
- <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)
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 then use this build chart to figure out how much you’ll pay for coverage, among other factors. The best rates are reserved for healthy people who are within healthy height/weight ranges.
If you don’t have any other serious health issues, you may be able to score a good rate even if you’re officially “overweight.”
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When do life insurance companies deny coverage?
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 look into 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. You can also ask your employer about group life insurance.
I have a high BMI, but I’m healthy. How will I be assessed?
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. People with a high BMI that feel they are in good condition can get a report from a certified practitioner to have their application assessed.
It’s also important to understand that BMI is not the only factor that is considered by an insurer to determine risk. Additional questionnaires, blood tests and a medical checkup may be required by your insurer to further assess your overall health and any other relevant conditions that may lead to an increase in mortality.
Life insurance and critical illness 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. Taking the time to compare different providers can help you save — especially if one insurer considers you a lower risk than another.
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