In the United States, over 73 percent of the population is overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Cultural movements around body positivity are working to normalize all body shapes and sizes and to put an end to fat shaming (as well they should), but body composition is still tied to a variety of health outcomes. Bankrate explains how and why your weight can affect your life insurance choices and helps you learn what options you have to get the coverage you need.

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Do life insurance companies need to know your weight?

Yes. A policyholder’s weight is often critical information to life insurance companies because weight can sometimes result from other diseases like Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and insulin resistance. Excess body weight can also make you more likely to develop serious health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. Therefore, life insurance companies typically look at 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 CDC offers guidelines for calculating overweight and obesity by using body mass index. For comparison purposes, the tables below show how BMI correlates to a weight range for a 5-foot-9-inch adult.

Keep in mind, though, that BMI is an imperfect tool. While it can be helpful, it can also be misleading. For example, a senior who has lost muscle tone may have an “underweight” BMI while a muscular athlete may have an “overweight” BMI, despite both persons being healthy. This is because BMI is only taking height and weight into account without consideration for body composition. If you’re wanting a more accurate measurement of your body composition, you may be able to have a scan completed that will break down your body’s bone, muscle and fat tissue amounts and ratios.

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
Healthy* 18.5 to 25.0 125 lbs to 168 lbs
Overweight 25.0 to 30 169 lbs to 202 lbs
Obese 30.0 or higher 203 lbs or more

*Per CDC categorization

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 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%:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • West Virginia

Will being overweight impact life insurance rates?

If you are overweight, life insurance costs may be more expensive than they would be for someone with a lower weight. However, insurance companies will consider multiple other 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 good 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. Your policy could be rated with table ratings if you don’t qualify for standard coverage. These ratings are considered substandard and result in higher premiums.

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 an 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 applicants who are overweight, no-exam life insurance often offers factors of convenience, flexibility and affordability. By purchasing no-exam insurance, you could bypass the 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