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Mouthy Money editor Edmund Greaves talks about why he was refused life insurance and how he plans to turn his health around and get accepted.
There’s lots going on in my life at the moment. Last year I got married. We also bought a house. The first thing we did as homeowners was get a Labrador called Atlas. He’s totally mad and lovely.
When we bought our home we talked to the mortgage broker about life insurance, but after a slightly negative experience (and the fact we were also in the middle of planning a wedding) we put the conversation on the back burner.
Then this year my wife and I recently discovered the joyous news that we are expecting a baby in October. This focused my mind on getting life cover sorted, as it’s not just my wife (and Atlas) I’d leave behind, but potentially a child were the worst to happen to me.
Then I had a fateful call with a life insurance provider. They asked the usual questions and it went fine, but when we moved onto medical questions things quickly went awry.
Too big for life insurance
I am not a skinny bloke. I’ve always been husky as an adult, although in my 20s this was kept at bay mostly by playing sports etc. But I’ve never been ‘slim’ and when I do the NHS BMI test it tells me my BMI is way too high.
I’ve always been conscious of my weight and have done plenty of faddy diets that don’t last or training programs that don’t yield results (and tend to lead to burnout).
More recently, the pandemic was definitely a bad thing for my waistline but really only added to an issue that I wasn’t really addressing anyway.
At my heaviest I was 159kg. This was around the time we got married and just before we got a dog. Getting a dog (and having to walk him all the time) was excellent news for the scales and I lost around 8kg by the beginning of this year.
But then the fateful phone call for life insurance. I spoke to Vitality who were recommended to me by a friend. Their adviser was extremely helpful and very honest about why I would be turned down. Simply put, I’m too fat.
He told me that to be at least considered, versus my height, I’d need to be below 120kg. Anything above and I’d simply be denied. Of course, this weight is still high in overall BMI terms and I’d face higher premiums, so the lower, the better.
I don’t think I felt humiliated by the news. As someone who works in personal finance I was aware that my size would be an issue with a product like this, but I had never really faced it before. Hearing it laid out to me was important and I commend the adviser for his honesty.
How does life insurance work?
Life insurance works in a few different ways. Typically, you pay a monthly amount for the policy and in the event you die, your loved ones receive a large lump sum payment.
Typically, this payment is set around the level of a mortgage you owe, or other amount depending on what you think your family might need.
Life insurance costs vary and depend on your age, lifestyle and other factors such as if you do a dangerous job.
Although you may not feel unwell, insurance firms can only deduce how much of a risk you are through vital statistics such as height, weight, whether you smoke or other factors.
Ultimately it is these parameters that will ensure whether your policy is cheap, or if like me, you get denied.
In my case I was denied because my weight vs my height was seen as too much of a big risk factor.
If you want to start your own path to getting life insurance or income protection, then try services such as Unbiased to look for a well-rated broker or adviser.
Comparison sites can help you find potential deals too. But I will caveat that in my personal experience with this basically every broker I spoke to was quite pushy.
Don’t be put off or forced into making a decision you’re not ready to make and have a clear idea in your own mind of what your needs are versus what you can afford.
Consider all the needs your family might have and how much cover you think would be appropriate. While a broker will help you discuss this remember that they will always try and push you to take on more, not less, cover.
Get fit for life insurance
Being turned down for life insurance is worrying, for my health and the security of my loved ones. I want to do the right thing for my growing family and protect them should something happen to me.
There is a kicker here that this situation collides with something else big that’s happening in my life at the moment.
I am preparing, with a group of friends, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2024, which I’m doing on behalf of Marie Curie in memory of my mum (you can check out my fundraiser for more on that).
So as luck would have it, I’m already on a concentrated path to getting fit and losing weight. I won’t go into the details as this isn’t a health and fitness blog, but it involves working out regularly and eating a lot less, basically. And sticking to it.
Kilimanjaro has given me a lot of motivation (that’s one of the reasons I signed up to it) but the life insurance issue has lit a fire under me in a way I’ve never had before.
The conversation I had with Vitality also helped crystallise some goals for me – I now have a tangible target I need to reach. The good news so far is I’ve lost around 14kg since March, putting me around 137kg at the moment.
Writing this deeply personal column is a form of accountability for me. I’m laying all my cards on the table in order to say I am willing to fix this problem of my own creation.
I’ve still got a lot of hard work to do, but I’ve never been more focused on achieving a health-related goal. Wish me luck.
Vitality has been contacted for comment.
Photo by Balazs Simon.
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Edmund Greaves is editor of Mouthy Money. Formerly deputy editor of Moneywise magazine, he has worked in journalism for over a decade in politics, travel and now money.