Life Insurance

Life Insurance for Overweight and Obese People: How Your BMI Affects Life Insurance Rates

Life Insurance for Overweight and Obese People: How Your BMI Affects Life Insurance Rates

Life insurance rates are typically higher if you're overweight or obese, since insurers take into account your weight and height when setting premiums.

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However, unless you have severe weight-related health issues, such as limited mobility due to being morbidly obese, you're unlikely to be rejected for life insurance coverage. And if you're an athlete or for some reason have a high BMI but low body fat percentage, you will likely be able to receive credits from an insurer to qualify for the best life insurance ratings.

How Your Weight Impacts Life Insurance Rates

Life insurance companies determine the rating category you fall into, and therefore the prices you qualify for, in part based upon a build chart that's similar to a BMI calculation. Typically, the rating categories available are:

  • Preferred Plus: This category is reserved for people in excellent health with no history of medical issues. If you're over the ideal weight for your height by more than a few pounds, you're unlikely to receive this rating.
  • Preferred: If you have had a minor medical issue or have a family history of moderate conditions, but are otherwise in great health, you'll likely qualify for a Preferred rating. There's also often a Preferred category for smokers that would otherwise qualify for their best rates except for their tobacco usage.
  • Standard Plus: The Standard Plus health class typically includes those in good health but that have a negative family history or a single condition that exempts them from qualifying for a Preferred rating.
  • Standard: This category is for people of average health that may have a couple common but manageable issues, like high cholesterol or blood pressure. There's also a Standard rating for smokers. If you're quite overweight, and particularly if you're obese, you'll likely receive a Standard rating.
  • Table Ratings: High-risk applicants for life insurance are often priced based upon table ratings. Unless you have a very high BMI, it's unlikely you'd receive a table rating for life insurance based upon your weight alone.

For each rating category, a life insurance company will have minimum and maximum weight limits for a given height, however your age and gender may also be taken into account. Some insurers—such as Allstate, Mutual of Omaha and Prudential—use a unisex weight chart, which is favorable to women that may be a few pounds overweight, since the range of acceptable height-to-weight ratios is higher for men. Similarly, other insurers take an applicant's age into account, which is favorable to younger applicants that are a bit overweight, because the ideal weight range for a given height is broader as you get older.

To give you a sense for how life insurance companies assess your weight, below you can see sample acceptable height and weight limits for adults that purchase coverage through MetLife. As you can see, even if you have a nonoptimal BMI, you may qualify for the best rating category. A 6-foot man that weighs 195 pounds, for instance, would be considered overweight according to a standard BMI calculation, but would qualify for a Preferred Plus life insurance rating (or Elite Plus, as MetLife refers to the category). And if he weighed 225 pounds, meaning his BMI would be considered obese, he would still qualify for better than standard rates. Overweight people typically aren't disqualified from receiving cheap life insurance based upon their weight alone, but because of other issues related to their build.

Preferred Plus
Standard Plus

Height and weight limits in this chart are based on the underwriting guidelines for Metropolitan Life. The company's build table is unisex for Standard ratings, which is why the weight limit is the same for both genders. Weight limits assume the applicant is at least 18, as the range changes based upon age.

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As you can see below, as a person increases in weight and change rating categories, the cost of a term life insurance policy increases for every insure. However, the point at which you enter a different rating category is different by insurer—a 200 pound overweight man might receive a Preferred rating from John Hancock, but a Standard rating from Primerica. And an obese 220 pound male would still receive a Standard Plus rating with favorable premiums for term life insurance from American General, so long as they had no other medical issues.

How Your Weight Impacts the Cost of Term Life Insurance

Life insurance companies may make exceptions to their standard weight guidelines for athletes or people with a high chest-to-waist measurement ratio, even if they have a high BMI. Since the insurer's weight tables are intended to approximate whether you fall within a healthy, normal weight range, they don't want to exclude people that are particularly fit but that might not have an optimal BMI, but we recommend that you check whether your BMI is outside the expected range and notify the insurer about the reason when applying for a life insurance policy. The company will then confirm when you qualify for preferred ratings when you take your medical exam.

Why Do Life Insurance Companies Have BMI Requirements?

Life insurance companies set rates based upon how risky they determine an applicant to be, or how likely you are to pass away during the term of the policy. A large number of conditions that are linked to obesity increase your mortality risk, such as:

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

Though you may not have developed any of these conditions yet, the insurer won't offer you a Preferred rating if you fall outside their recommended weight limits, because a high BMI increases your chances of contracting a medical issue later. A life insurance policy can extend for several years or your entire lifetime, and the insurer can't adjust your premiums, so they need to determine your risk based upon your current information.

How to Get the Best Life Insurance Rates if You're Overweight

In applying for a life insurance policy, you'll be asked a number of questions about your health and lifestyle, and the insurer will typically confirm your answers based upon your physician's records and medical exam. While you should always be honest, one of the simplest ways to help ensure you get the best life insurance rates is to include all relevant information related to your health regimen. If you adhere to a consistent diet and exercise program, are monitored by your doctor on a regular basis, and have had no weight-related issues, you're likely to qualify for a good life insurance rating.

Assuming the only issue in your application is that you are overweight, you will often still qualify for the best life insurance rates. Even applicants that have a high BMI and are categorized as obese can get a good rating—for instance, if you're 5'9" and 210 pounds, you can qualify for a Preferred rating at Prudential. It's usually weight-related complications, such as if you have diabetes or a family history of heart attacks, that will cause you to receive a poor rating.

Weight-Related Life Insurance Application Questions

  • Current weight and height: Be honest about your build, but make sure to include any other relevant information. For instance, if you have a high BMI but particularly low body fat percentage, the insurer may give you credits and improve your rating.
  • Weight changes in the past year: A crash diet is unlikely to help you get the best life insurance rating, since you'll only be credited with half of any recent weight loss and insurers get concerned about sudden changes in weight. But if you've begun a exercise or diet regimen that has caused you to begin losing weight, make sure to disclose this in your application, even if the insurer doesn't specifically ask about it.
  • Whether you smoke: Nonsmokers pay higher life insurance rates, particularly if you're overweight and wouldn't qualify for a Preferred Tobacco rating.
  • Your last doctor's appointment: If you're not under the regular care of a physician, this could hurt your chances of receiving the best ratings, since obesity is linked with other health issues. Life insurance companies will want to know you're regularly monitored for complications that could arise.
  • Any health or mobility issues related to your weight: If you have trouble with mobility or have had medical issues related to being obese, you likely won't qualify for the best life insurance rates.

Another simple way to improve your health rating is by preparing for the life insurance medical exam. When you schedule your exam, we recommend taking it first thing in the morning in a fasted state in order to get the best rating. Your weight can fluctuate by several pounds throughout the day as you eat and drink, so taking the exam early removes some of the variability.

Finally, ask your insurer if you can take a new medical exam a couple years after you've purchased the policy. If you've recently started a weight loss program, you may be able to qualify for a better rating, and lower premiums, by being reassessed after demonstrating that you're keeping the weight off. Or, you could try at that point to compare quotes from other insurers to see if you'd qualify for a cheaper policy through another life insurance company.

Impact of Weight Loss on Life Insurance Rates

If you intentionally lose weight through nonsurgical methods before applying for a policy, you will receive better life insurance rates. But you'll likely only receive credit for half of the weight lost over the past 12 months. Insurers want to know that your weight loss is sustained, and that you won't simply gain it back, so they focus more on your weight trend as opposed to a single snapshot.

Say you're 5'6" tall and used to weigh 205 pounds—you would have qualified for a Standard rating from Mutual of Omaha. If you began a diet and exercise program that helped you to lose 30 pounds, you would qualify for a Preferred Plus rating, so long as that weight loss had been sustained for at least a year. However, if the 30 pounds of weight loss occurred within the past 12 months, you would only be credited with having lost 15 pounds, and would receive a Preferred rating instead.

On the other hand, if you lose weight through surgical methods, you will similarly be credited with having lost weight, but will receive a worse rating overall due to the recent surgery.

And, if you unintentionally lose a significant amount of weight—over 10 pounds—this will be a point of concern for insurers, and you will either receive a worse rating or be rejected for coverage. Sudden weight loss that's not intended could mean you have an underlying condition. The life insurance company would want to know what is causing the change in weight and how this condition is being managed before you'll qualify for a good rating.

What if You're Denied Life Insurance Due to Your Weight?

In most cases, you won't be denied life insurance coverage solely due to a high BMI and, even if you were refused coverage by one company, it's likely that another insurer would offer you a policy. To be too fat to qualify for a life insurance policy with multiple insurers, you'd have to be morbidly obese. And even in that situation, the reason you wouldn't be offered coverage is likely the combination of both your weight as well as other health conditions.

If you can't get a standard term or permanent life insurance policy due to being overweight, or this combined with other factors, we would first recommend losing weight and then re-applying for coverage. Though life insurance companies will only give you partial credit for significant weight loss in the previous 12 months, you will be more likely to qualify for the policy of your choice.

But, if you need coverage immediately and are unable to qualify elsewhere, you may want to consider a guaranteed acceptance life insurance policy. As the name suggests, these policies guarantee acceptance, so you won't be considered uninsurable, no matter your weight. However, there are a few downsides to guaranteed acceptance life insurance:

  • They provide very limited coverage, usually no more than $25,000.
  • Guaranteed acceptance policies are higher cost than standard life insurance policies for each dollar of coverage.
  • If you die during the first two to three years of the policy being in force, your beneficiaries would only receive a partial payout unless your death was accidental. So, for instance, if you had a heart attack one year after purchasing coverage, your family would not receive the full death benefit.

Lying About Your Weight on a Life Insurance Application

Lying on your application would only be feasible if you purchase a no-exam or guaranteed life insurance policy, since fully underwritten policies involve a medical exam, during which your actual weight would be measured. But, even if you purchase a policy that doesn't require a medical exam, your insurer may have other means of confirming your build, such as your physician records.

We would recommend against lying about your weight on a life insurance application in every case. If the insurer ever determined that you'd intentionally lied about your weight, this could be considered fraud, and your policy may be canceled. Or, if you passed away, the life insurance company may deny your beneficiary's claim. In both of these cases, lying about your weight may help you to initially purchase a policy or get a better rate, but you would lose the premiums paid and not receive the benefits of coverage.

Maxime Croll

Maxime is a Sr. Director at ValuePenguin focusing on the insurance industry. Previously she was the Director of Product Marketing at CoverWallet, a commercial insurance startup, and helped launch NerdWallet's personal insurance business. Maxime has contributed insurance insights and analysis to Forbes, USA Today, The Hill, and many other publications.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.