Can childhood obesity impact life insurance rates in the future?

By Carrie Napoleon, Life Quotes, Inc.

Obesity among America’s youth is a growing epidemic with long-term ramifications for both the health and financial futures of those affected.

An estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are considered obese, according to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the last year for which statistics are available. That is about triple the rate from just one generation ago.

Obesity in children and adolescents makes these youths at risk for health problems that were once associated with older individuals. According to the CDC, obese children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

Experts say it is those risk factors that will have the most lasting impact on an individual’s ability to obtain life insurance as they mature.

“There are many things that commonly walk hand in hand with obesity – from problems being physically active and wear and tear on joints, to even more worrisome problems like diabetes,” says Dr. Ann Hoven, DBIM CLU, chief medical director for The Hartford’s Wealth Management Division.

“Lack of physical activity affects not only one’s day to day life but is also a risk factor for developing heart disease and is increasingly being looked at as a risk for some cancers such as breast cancer,” she continued.

When it comes to individually underwritten life insurance policies the premium would be affected by the degree of obesity to reflect the additional risk it poses, she says.

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Roger Palmer, vice president of analysis for Resource Insurance Consultants in Omaha, Neb., agrees.

“Obesity in childhood is a precursor to what you have as an adult,” Palmer says. It is those health maladies that can have a dramatic impact on what an individual ultimately pays for life insurance.

According to the results of one study cited by the CDC, about 80 percent of children who were considered overweight between the ages of 10 to 15 were considered obese adults at the age of 25.

Palmer explained the underwriting process is becoming more fine-tuned. Someone deemed “average” today and who would be considered a standard risk likely will miss out on some of the best rates, which will be reserved for individuals who are in superior shape and health, or classified as preferred or super-preferred.

Add on the pounds and the associated health disorders and that classification moves to substandard and the cost climbs. An individual in a substandard classification with a pre-existing condition such as diabetes or heart disease potentially can pay as much as three times the amount the same aged individual in a healthier class will pay.

Palmer says in the past underwriters did not look too deeply into the health of an individual under the age of 40 when writing a policy. The trend today, in part due to the growing obesity epidemic, is bringing that benchmark much lower.

“Underwriting is starting to get much stricter,” Palmer says.

If you would like to learn more about your child’s body mass index, the CDC provides a BMI calculator for children and teens.

The earlier an individual learns how to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle — or manages to get a weight problem under control – will have a positive impact on his or her future both physically and financially.

“Whatever you’re able to do within your physical capacity, exercise, eating correctly, is always a benefit to you,” says Roger Palmer, vice president of risk analysis for Resource Insurance Consultants in Omaha, Neb.

A healthy weight early in life contributes to better rates for life insurance as the individual ages. Options for medical intervention for weightless in adolescents remains limited.

The range most insurers begin to consider a bariatric procedure for a youth is between 16 and 18. It is more common to find coverage for supervised weight management programs and counseling.

Individuals who are overweight at any age and manage to lose that weight would benefit from seeking reclassification on their life insurance policy or having a new police underwritten, Palmer says.

Hoven agrees healthy living is always the better option. However, tools such as approved weight-loss medications or bariatric surgery can be helpful in reducing an individual’s weight and health risks and

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