Life Insurance For Overweight And Obese People? Yes and No.

You might be wondering, does life insurance for overweight people exist?  And if so, what criteria do insurance companies use?

After all, from our doctors to our lecture halls to our media, we constantly hear about the dangers of obesity and how it increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

In the rest of the piece, we’ll dig into this in more detail.  In particular: 

  • Why your weight matters to life insurance companies
  • How life insurance companies obtain and use your weight data
  • The best insurance companies for overweight individuals

Why Your Weight Affects Life Insurance

Purchasing life insurance can feel invasive and rife with judgment.  However, insurance companies aren’t looking at your physical appearance or attractiveness.

Life insurance companies are in the business of analyzing your mortality risk (the risk that you will die).

And since they don’t have a crystal ball, they have to use what they know about you now to estimate your mortality risk in the future.

The Long-Term Health Impacts Of High Body Fat

One factor that has a very strong long-term correlation with mortality risk is body fat.

Body fat levels are linked to a variety of serious health conditions that increase your mortality risk.  According to Medline  Plus, these include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Kidney disease

While you may not have these conditions now, historical data tells the insurance company that you are likely to develop one or more of these conditions in the future.

Estimating Body Fat With BMI

Since it is difficult (and expensive) to directly measure a person’s body fat, insurance companies often use an indirect measure called Body Mass Index (BMI).  BMI is an estimate of your body fat that is based on your height, weight, gender, and age.

To see what your BMI is, you can use the calculator linked here.

how Insurers Learn About Your Health

Insurance companies learn about your weight in one of two ways:

  • Your life insurance application
  • The post-application medical exam

The first place you’ll be asked about your weight is in the initial “personal information” section of your life insurance application, as shown in the below screenshot from Bestow Life Insurance’s application. 

Bestow app_ weight question 1

Most insurers will also ask about any significant weight loss you’ve experienced recently.  Since recent weight loss is often hard to maintain, many insurers will give you only 50% credit for this amount.  

For example, let’s say you’ve lost 30 pounds in the past 6 months, going from 180 pounds to 150 pounds.  Instead of considering your current weight to be 150, your insurer will conservatively add back half of the weight you lost and consider your weight to be 165 pounds.

Bestow app question about weight loss

For traditional life insurance companies, which typically require a medical exam, you’ll likely have your height and weight confirmed by a nurse during your medical exam.

How Insurers Use Your Weight Data

Life insurance companies decide whether or not to approve you (as well as what monthly rate to charge you), by putting applicants in various “rate classes”.

The table below shows the four typical ratings — Preferred Plus, Preferred, Standard Plus, and Standard — as well as a fifth set for high risk individuals, which are priced based on “Table Ratings.”

Rating Health Requirements
Preferred Plus
- Excellent health
- No history of medical issues
Preferred
- Great health
- Minor medical issue OR moderate family history
Standard Plus
- Good health
- Single medical condition OR negative family history
Standard
- Average health
- Common, manageable issues (e.g., blood pressure)
Table Ratings

- Higher-risk applicants priced based on "table ratings"

Many factors determine an individual’s rating class, such as their cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and “build,” among many others.

You must meet all of the criteria of a specific rating class to qualify for that class.

The chart below shows the height-weight (or “build”) thresholds that many life insurance underwriting departments use.

According to the chart, for someone who is 5 foot, 6 inches tall, they will qualify for:

  • Preferred Plus if they are less than 180 pounds
  • Preferred if they are 180-200 pounds
  • Standard Plus if they are 200-210 pounds
  • Standard if they are 210-222 pounds
  • Table Ratings if they are 222-308 pounds
Table 1: "Build" Chart
HeightPreferredStandardPreferred PlusStandard PlusTable Ratings
4' 10"155170135165182 - 249
4' 11"160176141170187 - 254
5' 0"166184146177193 - 262
5' 1"173191152185199 - 269
5' 2"179197158190205 - 277
5' 3"184203164195213 - 284
5' 4"189209169200221 - 292
5' 5"194215174205226 - 299
5' 6"200222180210232 - 308
5' 7"205228185215239 - 316
5' 8"209235189220246 - 324
5' 9"215242195225254 - 331
5' 10"221250200232262 - 340
5' 11"227258206237269 - 349
6' 0"232265211244275 - 356
6' 1"239271217252282 - 365
6' 2"244279222257289 - 374
6' 3"250285228262296 - 383
6' 4"255292233268301 - 394

Can Overweight People Get Life Insurance?

So what’s the verdict on overweight life insurance?

Whether it’s permanent life insurance or traditional term life insurance, the answer is an overwhelming yes.

As long as you weigh less than the figure in the far-right column (for your height), you’re not only eligible for approval but can get approved at a low rate.  

The caveat is that their monthly life insurance rates may be 2-4x higher than the standard rate, but compared to the risks that come with having no coverage, buyers may be fine with this price differential. 

Unless your build (BMI) is in the highest 1% of the population, your weight alone will not be cause for life insurance denial.

If you look at a life insurance company’s “build chart” (a height-weight chart), you’ll see that individuals far over the “obese” threshold, per the body mass index (BMI) scale, can still be approved within insurers’ table rate classes.

Of course, they will pay much higher premiums vs. the standard rate, but the bottom line is that they still qualify for approval.

If You Have Been Denied: Three Options

Very few people will be denied life insurance coverage solely due to a high BMI.

But let’s say that you were denied and the reason cited was your build.  What are your options if you still want life insurance?

1. Lose Weight

The first of these options is obvious.  You could lose enough weight to fall within the company’s build chart.

As if this weren’t hard enough, note that life insurance companies will give you only partial credit for weight you’ve lost in the previous 12 months. 

Second, you could apply for a life insurance policy at another insurer.

Is this just an exercise in insanity (“trying the same thing over again and expecting different results”)?

Not at all.  While insurance carriers have very similar weight thresholds for regular rate classes, their ranges are wildly different when it comes to their table rate classes.

For example, for a 5′ 9″ male, the weight limit for Mutual of Omaha’s final table rating is 266 pounds;  however, for Pacific Life, it is 349!

Therefore, your life insurance denial could very well be the result of bad luck.  I.e., you happened to choose an insurer with strict weight criteria.

If this were the case, your approval odds could be significantly higher with other insurers.

women with healthy habits

2. Find A More lenient Insurer & Re-Apply

Second, you could apply for a life insurance policy at another insurer.

Is this just an exercise in insanity (“trying the same thing over again and expecting different results”)?

Not at all.  While insurance carriers have very similar weight thresholds for regular rate classes, their ranges are wildly different when it comes to their table rate classes.

For example, for a 5′ 9″ male, the weight limit for Mutual of Omaha’s final table rating is 266 pounds;  however, for Pacific Life, it is 349!

Therefore, your life insurance denial could very well be the result of bad luck.  I.e., you happened to choose an insurer with strict weight criteria.

If this were the case, your approval odds could be significantly higher with other insurers.

3. Purchase A Guaranteed Acceptance Life Insurance Policy

A third option to consider, especially if you need coverage immediately, is to purchase a “guaranteed acceptance” life insurance policy.

As the name suggests, approval is guaranteed with these policies and your weight is simply not a factor.

But as you probably guessed, there’s a catch:

  1. Guaranteed acceptance policies offer very limited coverage, typically no more than $25,000 (industry-wide)
  2. Monthly premiums are significantly higher than an equivalent, but fully-underwritten term life insurance policy — to the point that it may be more economical to invest your premium amounts vs. put those funds towards an insurance policy. 

Wrapping Up

We hope this helped answer most of your questions about weight and life insurance.

If you have any questions left, however, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send us an email at hello@getsure.org.

Warm Regards,
The GetSure Team

RJ

RJ

RJ is the Founder & Head of Content at GetSure. He is a licensed life, accident & health insurance agent, with over 10 years of experience in the financial services industry. He holds a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from Columbia University and an MBA from The Stanford Graduate School of Business.
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