A 2018 study by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed an alarming new trend in America: amongst U.S. adults, 40% are considered obese. Consequently, nearly half of the U.S. population is expected to be obese by 2030.
Obesity can cause a host of chronic illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and stroke, making finding life insurance for overweight individuals potentially difficult. In some cases, obesity can even cause premature death, with about 300,000 people dying each year from obesity alone.
Because of these concerns, obesity may also play a factor in your life insurance premiums.
Do life insurance companies need to know your weight?
A policyholder’s weight is often critical information because weight can sometimes result from other diseases like Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and insulin resistance. Therefore, life insurance companies typically look to your body mass index (BMI) to assess whether you might be a high-risk applicant due to your weight.
“Build is by far one of the most common factors that knock people out of preferred underwriting classes for life insurance,” says Michael C. Staeb, Insurance Planning Consultant and an independent wholesaler with 20 years experience. “Medical studies have shown that the extra weight does cause additional long-term strain on the heart. This is true of overweight individuals where the extra weight is not fat, but instead muscle.
“Another reason build is such an important factor in life insurance underwriting has to do with higher prevalence of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease if [you are] overweight for an extended period.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidelines for calculating obesity by using one’s body mass index. For comparison purposes, the below tables show how BMI affects the weight range for a 5-foot-9-inch adult.
Body mass index range
|Weight range||Body mass index (BMI)||Weight range for 5-foot-9-inch adult|
|Underweight||18.5 or lower||124 lbs or less|
|Normal||18.5 to 25||125 lbs to 168 lbs|
|Overweight||25.0 to 30||169 lbs to 202 lbs|
|Obese||30.0 or higher||203 lbs or more|
Categories of obesity, per BMI
|Class||Category||Body mass index (BMI)|
|Class 1||Mild||30.0 to 35.0|
|Class 2||Moderate||35.0 to 40.0|
|Class 3||Extreme/Severe||40.0 or higher|
With a high BMI, insurance rates may be higher. However, while your BMI can be a valuable tool in assessing your weight for insurance purposes, it still does not replace the need for a personal medical assessment and ongoing care, should you require it. If you are concerned about your weight or have questions about your body mass index, consider scheduling an appointment with your health provider.
In addition to your BMI, additional factors may impact the cost of your life insurance.
- Weight-related conditions: Excessive weight gain often becomes a detriment to your health if left unaddressed. The CDC reports that obesity can negatively impact mental health, while also leaving you open to other leading causes of disease, such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Lifestyle habits: Drinking and smoking are examples of unhealthy habits that could significantly endanger your health and increase your risk, potentially impacting the cost of your life insurance premium.
- Family medical history: An insurer will likely ask you to provide information regarding your family’s medical history, including any conditions or diseases that have caused death. This information is usually considered in addition to your own health when setting rates.
Victor Vega, a licensed life insurance agent and the founder of Garden Mutual, described the typical medical exam considerations.
“Insurance companies will use lab results from urine [and] blood to determine insurability based on detecting tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, medication dosage, blood sugar levels, cancer levels, HIV/AIDS and other chronic or acute conditions.”
There are also some states where obesity is especially prevalent. These states have an obesity rate of over 35% in the U.S., which might make life insurance expensive:
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Will being overweight impact life insurance rates?
If you are overweight, life insurance costs may run more expensive than the typical life insurance policy for someone in good overall health. Insurance companies will consider multiple health factors, such as your blood pressure, cholesterol and whether you smoke.
“While there are a couple niche carriers that offer products with no height and weight requirement, every other carrier with competitive rates [usually] does take weight into consideration when determining the cost of life insurance,” says Gordon Conwell, owner of the Gordon E. Conwell Associates, Inc. insurance agency. “The potential for health issues caused by being overweight is why life insurance companies may charge more or may even decline you for life insurance.”
“The reason insurance companies use weight in determining rates is because obesity is considered a high mortality risk,” says Vega of Garden Mutual. “Insurance companies rely on data tracked by actuaries to determine rates based on height versus weight.”
Based on these factors, you are often quoted according to the following life insurance classifications.
|Life insurance classifications||Meaning|
|Preferred Plus||This is an ideal classification for life insurance, signifying excellent health. Usually, it requires that applicants are not significantly overweight and have no serious health issues.|
|Preferred||This classification is for applicants who may have some minor personal or family health concerns, but are still in relatively great health. There may also be more flexibility around weight allowances.|
|Standard Plus||People who have above-average health, but with a more serious health condition than someone in great health may qualify for this classification.|
|Standard||The average American is likely to fall into this classification, which refers to having average health and some general health concerns.|
Insurance companies will typically use table ratings to determine the price of life insurance for high-risk applicants. This is usually done to assess more extreme cases. Only those considered extremely obese would likely receive rates based on substandard or table ratings.
Conwell, based on his insurance experience, says, “While there are carriers that offer special table rating structure[s], each rating (i.e. class A, B, C, etc.) usually equates to an additional 25% premium in addition to the standard or regular rate.”
What is no medical exam life insurance?
Medical exams are a common requirement when you want to obtain a new life insurance policy. However, the process may be difficult or tedious for those with health issues. Because of this, some people choose to seek out no-exam life insurance, an alternative that could be a great option if you have trouble qualifying for a traditional insurance policy.
“This allows applicants to apply online or over-the-phone and get approved without providing blood sample[s] and urine samples,” explains Vega. “This type of life insurance usually costs more due to the higher level of risk the insurance company is taking.”
For overweight applicants, no-exam life insurance often offers factors of convenience, flexibility and affordability. A medical exam could highlight your weight gain, potentially encouraging insurance providers to charge more or limit your coverage. By purchasing no-exam insurance, you could bypass the entire exam process and complete a health questionnaire instead.
Although it may not be a perfect solution and has its own set of pros and cons, no-exam life insurance could be suitable depending on your situation.
No-exam life insurance pros:
- No medical tests: The biggest perk of no-exam insurance is that you have the option to skip the usual requisite blood and urine tests that are typically associated with medical exams.
- Faster approval: No-exam insurance may allow you to purchase life insurance without the wait times that come with scheduling, attending and then awaiting the results of your medical appointment.
- More accessible: Some people have a deep fear of needles and others may experience anxiety when visiting the doctor, which may make no-exam insurance an appealing option.
No-exam life insurance cons:
- More expensive: When insurance companies extend coverage without a medical exam, it means added risk, which you may pay for with higher premiums.
- Limited coverage: Often, no-exam life insurance does not offer as many choices for coverage as a traditional policy. There are usually fewer riders as well.
Frequently asked questions
What is the best life insurance company for overweight people?
Based on our experience analysis, the best life insurance companies include MetLife, New York Life Insurance Group, Northwestern Mutual, Prudential Financial, State Farm, Guardian, Haven, and MassMutual. However, always be sure to shop your options. The best life insurance company for you may be different based on your circumstances, such as your age and how much coverage you need.
Will you be denied coverage for being overweight?
Insurance companies do not typically deny applicants for being overweight. The exception may be when there is a significant medical condition that can impact coverage. Insurance companies will usually consider your BMI as a part of your overall health when assessing coverage and pricing.
What life insurance policy is best for overweight people?
Life insurance is a type of policy that is extremely personalized to each individual. Insurance experts recommend thoroughly exploring your options to see which life insurance provider offers the best coverage and pricing for your medical condition.
Do I have to tell my insurance provider that I am overweight?
Being upfront with your insurance provider regarding your health and medical history is often good practice. If you withhold critical health information, your insurance provider is likely to find out through your medical records and may even void your coverage at a time when your family needs it most.