The One Advantage of Being Fat Doesn’t Help Get Life Insurance

Aaron Crowe | Health, Life Insurance | 8 Jan, 2015 | No Comments

Being obese has many disadvantages, such as health conditions that are assumed to lower life expectancy and lead to higher life insurance rates.

An “obesity paradox” studied by the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2010 and by others, however, shows that severely fat people have one major advantage than normal-weight people: They live longer with diseases related to obesity.

Obese people with health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, renal disease, stroke and heart disease live longer than normal-weight patients with the same problems.

“Despite the fact that obesity is recognized as a major risk factor in the development of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, a higher BMI may be associated with a lower mortality and a better outcome in several chronic diseases and health circumstances,” according to a study by the Czech Republic Ministry of Health.

One reason may be that when obese people arrive at a hospital with a heart attack, they’re treated more aggressively because doctors think there’s more of an urgency to their condition than they do for a normal-weight person.

The University of Rochester study found that among patients who had already suffered a heart attack, non-obese people had a 76 percent increased risk of dying suddenly from cardiac causes than obese patients did.

A 2011 Gallup poll found that 35.8 percent of Americans were overweight and 25.8 percent were obese — adding up to 61.6 percent — based on body mass index, or BMI. Gallup also reported that men self-reported they weighed 196 pounds on average, and women report weighing 160 pounds — both far less than the overweight BMI statistics the other poll found.

That one advantage of being obese — living longer after a heart attack or similar medical problem when compared to a normal-weight person — doesn’t extend to getting life insurance. 

BMI is taken into consideration when applying for life insurance, and applicants can be declined strictly on that measure, says Jason Fisher, owner of BestLifeRates.org.

“While a person who is just mildly overweight won’t see any benefit to their approval, they won’t see much of a hit either,” Fisher says. “Several carriers allow pretty high BMIs, and a person with a heart condition would be underwritten with greater consideration to their heart health than weight.”

The best strategy to getting a lower life insurance premium is to lose the extra weight before applying and not when you already have a policy and are trying to lose weight. Insurers may not consider such a request after a policy is written, or they may require the weight to be kept off for a year or so before they lower the insured’s rate.

If an obese person lost weight and got a lower life insurance premium, they could pay for the policy by using the the money saved from not having to pay the higher insurance premium.

In an example from Christopher Huntley, co-founder of JRC Insurance Group, a 50-year-old man who doesn’t smoke and loses just five pounds from his current 230 pounds at 6-feet-2-inches tall could save 37 percent on a $500,000, 20-year term life insurance policy. His annual premium would drop from $1,560 to $985 by losing five pounds before a medical exam for a life insurance application.

Being obese may help with the “obesity paradox,” but it so far doesn’t help with lower life insurance rates.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who covers the insurance industry and writes about personal finance for various websites, including his personal finance blog at CashSmarter.com.




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