Term life insurance rates are affected by lots of different factors. However, there’s a reason that some of the first questions most life insurance agents and companies ask for are your height and weight. Your build is a quick indicator of a lot of possible health issues, and it can definitely affect your term life insurance rates.
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One of the most common ways that a carrier evaluates the overall health of your build is by looking at your BMI.
What Is BMI?
BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a score that estimates the amounts and types of tissues that make up a person’s weight. Because this score can help doctors estimate the relative percentage of body fat a person has, it’s a very effective way to quickly see how healthy a person’s build is compared to the average population.
This score is typically used to categorize people into one of four weight classes ranging from underweight to normal weight to overweight and obese. It’s such a widespread metric for evaluating a person’s weight that it is used by almost every major life insurance carrier as part of the process of setting term life insurance rates for their clients.
History of BMI
Despite how widespread the term BMI is today, it didn’t actually get its name until the 1970s—around 150 years after it was first invented. Before that, it was known as the Quetelet scale after Adolphe Quetelet, a mathematician and sociologist from Belgium trying to find a convenient way to measure the overall health of large populations.
The idea caught on when it got its new name in the 1970s. During that time, obesity was beginning to become a widespread problem in America and some other western countries. BMI allowed doctors get a quick insight into a person’s build based on how far they are from the average weight, which helped it become a common reading on a patient’s health records.
Calculating Your BMI
BMI is calculated using only your weight and your height. It doesn’t factor into account things like body composition, fitness, or health. However, its ease of use makes it helpful for checking out your body composition at a glance. I’ll use my own height and weight for an example calculation.
Step One: Multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Since BMI was developed using the metric system, people who use inches and pounds need to add this step to convert it to the correct units.
I weigh 160 pounds, and 160 x 703 = 112480.
Step Two: Multiply your height in inches by itself.
I’m 6’1”, so I’m 73 inches tall. 73 x 73 = 5329.
Step Three: Divide the number from step one by the number from step two.
112480 / 5329 = 21.1, which means I fall within the “Average” BMI range. Hooray!
Determining Which Category You’re In
Underweight (BMI less than 18.5)
An underweight BMI shows that a person’s body weight is between 15-20% lower than the average for their age and height. A BMI of less than 18.5 might be a red flag for malnutrition, eating disorders, diabetes, or even muscle atrophy from fighting conditions like cancer or healing an injury that kept the person in bed.
Normal Weight (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9)
If your BMI falls within this range, you’re within the average weight for your height, and the odds of you having a health issue solely related to your weight are low, unless your build changes in the future.
Overweight (BMI between 25.0 and 29.9)
A BMI above 25 is when doctors might begin to look for health complications related to weight. These issues can range from a hormonal imbalance to a poor diet, and even to metabolic disorders that affect the way the body processes the calories that come in.
If you’re slightly over the 25 BMI line, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with your build. Some studies have recently suggested that healthy people with a BMI closer to 25 might actually have a higher life expectancy than those closer to being underweight. With a healthy diet and exercise, a person who stays in this range will most likely live a healthy life.
Obese (BMI 30.0 and above)
A BMI above 30.0 is medically classified as obese, and suggests a real possibility that your build will affect your health. Heart disease, sleep apnea, and diabetes are all definite possibilities, and life insurance underwriters will look closely at your health history and medical records to determine how risky you are to insure.
» Learn more: Life Insurance and Obesity
Term life insurance is available to obese clients, but might come with a higher risk class or a table rating, even without other medical issues.
What Does Weight Have to Do with Your Term Life Insurance Rates?
Life insurance companies look at your weight to calculate your life insurance cost because a person’s build is a major risk factor for mortality. Because weight and obesity are often high-risk statistics that can predict many issues ranging from heart disease to diabetes, a person with an average BMI will statistically live longer than a person with an above-average BMI.
This means that a person with a normal BMI will often have a lower overall term life insurance cost than a similar person with a higher BMI. However, this isn’t always the case.
BMI isn’t a perfect system. It’s only used to give a rough idea of an average person’s body type. If you’re taller or shorter than average, for example, or if you’re extremely athletic with a low percentage of body fat, BMI doesn’t always provide an accurate measurement. This is because the equation only compares you against the average, and can’t give you a full picture of your health.
Your current health history is used to determine what type of policy you are eligible for.
This means that if you’ve recently lost a lot of weight, insurance carriers will see all of the progress you’ve made, but will also be on the lookout to see if there’s a possibility that you could gain all of that weight back.
This protects carriers against people who would try to use extreme dieting to try and slip under a weight guideline right before applying for life insurance. They want to be confident that you’ll keep the weight off before they offer you a better price.
» Learn more: Can I Get Life Insurance After Weight-Loss Surgery?
Life Insurance Companies Use BMI to Estimate How Much Your Policy Will Cost
While companies do consider your BMI, they don’t use it to set your final price. Carriers each have their own guidelines for height and weight that they use to assign term life insurance rates based on underwriting statistics.
Each carrier has a slightly different range of “healthy” weights that they use, but the table below is fairly standard and can give you a good idea of what to expect.
Common Concerns About BMI and Term Life Insurance
Do life insurance underwriters look at BMI?
Yes, they do. A person’s build is one of the things that all life insurance carriers ask for when you’re looking to get coverage. However, BMI isn’t a one-size-fits-all score because it can’t perfectly describe everyone.
For example, very tall and very short people tend to have unreliable BMI scores because height plays a large role in calculating it, and very athletic people often end up with high BMIs because of their above-average muscle mass.
Life insurance companies look at both your BMI as well as your medical records so they can truly understand your overall health and give you the best term life insurance rates possible.
Do I not qualify if I have a certain BMI?
Due to the health issues, different carriers have different weight requirements that clients need to meet in order to be accepted. If your weight is considered risky, you can be accepted at a lower risk class (meaning a higher premium payment) or denied if it’s too high to insure.
However, the weight limits most carriers use are quite wide, so not many people are denied coverage based on that alone. This table illustrates a sample range of weights and heights that can all be approved for coverage if there are no other health issues present.
How does a life insurance company know my height and weight?
All life insurance carriers collect your height and weight as a quick way to check and see if any health risks are present based on your build. This is why your height and weight are some of the first questions we ask to get our clients to give them their baseline price.
Life insurance companies typically confirm your height and weight during your phone interview and life insurance medical exam. During the medical exam, they also collect info about your pulse rate and blood pressure, along with a urine sample and a blood draw. This allows them to evaluate your current health and give you an appropriate price on your life insurance.
If you get a policy that offers accelerated underwriting, however, the underwriter will instead get your height and weight from your medical records, which all life insurance policies use to confirm your health status and history.
What is the life insurance cost if I am overweight?
By itself, weight doesn’t have too much of an impact on the price of term life insurance. This is because a high BMI by itself is only an indicator that it’s more likely that a person will have health complications in the future. Below are a few sample tables for pricing based on the risk classes life insurance carriers use.
|The Average Monthly Cost of a
20-Year $250,000 Term Policy
for a 30-Year-Old Male
Based on Risk Class
|The Average Monthly Cost of a
20-Year $250,000 Term Policy
for a 30-Year-Old Female
Based on Risk Class
While your build is definitely a factor in your term life insurance pricing, medical conditions related to your build affect price as well. This is because your build might suggest a health condition could develop in the future, but if it contributed to your health condition, each condition affects your price separately.
Tom is a 35 year old man who is 6’1″ and 180 pounds. His build is average, so he’d qualify for a risk class of Preferred Plus, which is the best risk class available. If he was looking to buy $250,000 in coverage for 20 years, his term life insurance rates would be around $15 monthly.
If Tom was 250 pounds instead of 180, his build would put him in the Standard risk class, which is a bit more expensive. Assuming that he has no other health issues, his final cost would come out to around $25 per month.
If he also had well-controlled type 2 diabetes, Tom might receive a Table 3 risk class, which would raise his term life insurance rates to around $35 monthly.
Your build alone won’t increase your price too much, but if it has caused multiple health issues, your term life insurance rates will rise, and you may be declined coverage.
While BMI is an important measurement, it’s not the end-all be-all for your term life insurance rates. You can use your BMI to get a rough idea of potential costs and concerns when applying for life insurance, but the only way to figure out your actual price is to apply.
We make applying for term life insurance coverage easy and painless. We’ll help you customize your quote to fit in your budget. If you don’t like your final price, you can walk away at any time—no pressure. When you work with Quotacy, you’re in control from start to finish.
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About the writer
Eric started in Quotacy's sales department, but moved to marketing after helping hundreds of people through their life insurance buying journey. Aside from writing about buying life insurance, he also edits Quotacy's monthly newsletter, runs our YouTube channel and produces Real Life, our podcast. Eric lives in Minneapolis, where his coworkers are trying to convince him to take his humor into the spotlight. Connect with him on LinkedIn.