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.
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.
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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