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More than 2 in 3 adults in America are overweight or obese. Being overweight can have significant implications for long-term health. That’s why this condition can affect life insurance.

Similar to people with other pre-existing conditions, an insurer may charge higher premiums or deny you if you’re considered a high risk. However, every insurance company and every case is different. 

Here’s what you need to know before you apply for life insurance.


Can you get life insurance when you’re overweight?

Yes, you can get life insurance if you’re overweight. However, whether you’re approved depends on several factors:

  • Your family history
  • Your age 
  • Whether you have other pre-existing conditions

Insurers use a height and weight table to help determine their risk of insuring you. This table is similar to Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a measure of your weight in relation to your height. A BMI in the range of 25 to 30 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 and over is deemed obese.

Each insurer has its own height and weight chart. Some companies are more lenient than others in categorizing applicants who are overweight. For example, one Tennessee-based insurer’s table indicates that a 25 to 59-year-old man or woman who is 5’9″ and weighs 170 lbs would be placed in the large frame category. The table is based on the 1999 Metropolitan Life Insurance Tables. This particular insurer uses this information or BMI to determine “desired weight” as part of its underwriting process.

If you’re overweight, you could still be approved for a policy. However, if you have other more serious pre-existing conditions — like diabetes or heart disease — you may end up in a higher risk category. The higher risk rating means higher premiums if you’re approved. If you’re older, you also could be rated in a higher risk class Seniors often have several comorbidities, or multiple health conditions, that make them higher risk. If someone is overweight and older, this only adds to the risk for insurers.

Despite the likelihood of higher premiums, being overweight puts you in a better position to get life insurance than if you’re obese, says John Barnes of My Family Life Insurance, an independent insurance agency in Andover, Mass.

“If someone is considered obese, he or she likely will be declined for life insurance or have a high rating [in terms of their premium],” Barnes says.

Barnes adds that it’s important to maintain a consistent weight before you apply for life insurance.

“Generally speaking, carriers want at minimum 12 months of consistent weight. Otherwise, they will add half of the weight loss back to your current weight to establish the weight for your application. Carriers argue that, more often than not, people will gain the weight back,” he says.


Instant approval for life insurance

You have other options if you can’t get approved for traditional life insurance. In some cases, you can get life insurance through a process known as instant approval.

Instant approval, which is common with term life insurance, involves an accelerated insurance underwriting process. You answer questions about your medical history and your age, weight, height and lifestyle habits. An insurance company uses these details to determine your life expectancy and risk class. The insurer makes an instant decision about whether to approve you for a policy. You don’t take a medical exam. 

Barnes says it’s possible for someone who is overweight to be instantly approved for life insurance, “but it really depends on the severity of the situation. If the person is very overweight, instant approval probably is not available.”


Is a guaranteed issue policy my only option if I’m denied traditional life insurance?

If you can’t get traditional life insurance, a guaranteed issue policy may be another alternative.

With guaranteed issue insurance, you don’t have to answer any health questions to get a policy. However, the main drawback is that these policies come with higher premiums for less coverage. For example, it’s common to see benefit amounts as low as $5,000.

Final expense insurance, also known as burial insurance, is one form of guaranteed issue insurance that people who can’t qualify for a traditional policy may want to consider. These policies also can be simplified issue, which involves answering a few health questions. 

Final expense insurance offers a cash benefit that your loved ones can use to pay for funeral expenses. Though benefit amounts for these policies are small compared to traditional life insurance, they offer families some financial assistance when they need it most.


Permanent vs. term life insurance

Whether you decide to apply for permanent or term life insurance likely depends on your budget and insurance needs.

Whole and universal life policies are permanent life insurance that includes a cash value component. Cash value allows the policyholder to access while he or she is still alive. Permanent insurance is significantly more expensive than term life insurance, which has no cash value component. Benefits expire after a set term.

Barnes says someone who has a family, a mortgage or other assets may need more life insurance than a single person who doesn’t have dependents who would need financial assistance. He says someone in the latter situation should consider a permanent policy or final expense insurance to cover burial expenses.

However, the choice between permanent and term life insurance depends mainly on whether you’re insurable in the first place. If you’re approved for a policy, you need to weigh the factors that Barnes mentioned, along with what premiums you can afford, to determine what type of life insurance best suits your needs.


Improved weight and life insurance

Whether you’re overweight or within the “normal” BMI range, your weight will likely fluctuate over your lifetime.

Changing weight doesn’t mean that you can’t ever get life insurance or that you have to settle for higher rates. Barnes suggests never holding off on getting life insurance. You always can negotiate a lower premium later if you maintain a consistent weight (typically, for at least 12 months).

“You could always ask the carrier for a revised, lower premium. The carrier will usually have an examiner confirm the weight and apply any premium reduction,” Barnes says.

The bottom line is that having some form of life insurance usually is better than going without coverage altogether. Being overweight may initially put you in a higher risk class, but by taking steps to improve your health, you might be able to get a better rating and qualify for a more affordable policy that provides the financial protection your family needs.