Obesity among America’s youth is a growing epidemic with long-term ramifications for both the weight health and financial futures of those affected.
The percentage of obese U.S. children ages six to eleven years old increased from seven percent in 1980 to nearly eighteen percent in 2010. According to the Center for Disease Control, the percentage of obese adolescents ages twelve to nineteen years old increased from five to eighteen percent over the same period.
Obesity in children and adolescents increases their risk for health problems that were once only associated with older individuals. According to the CDC, obese children and adolescents at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.
Experts say that these risk factors will have a 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.
Hoven added that when it comes to individually underwritten life insurance policies, the premium is affected by the degree of obesity and the additional risk it poses.
Roger Palmer, vice president of analysis for Resource Insurance Consultants in Omaha, Neb., agrees. Those health maladies can have a dramatic impact on what an individual ultimately pays for life insurance.
“Obesity in childhood is a precursor to what you have as an adult,” Palmer says.
According to a 2005 study produced by the US Department of Health & Human Services, overweight adolescents are seventy percent more likely to be obese or overweight as adults.
Palmer explained the underwriting process is becoming more fine-tuned. Someone deemed “average” today, and who would be considered a standard risk, will likely miss out on some of the best rates reserved for individuals who are in superior shape and health, or classified as preferred or super-preferred.
Add on the pounds (along with the associated health disorders) and an individual’s classification moves to substandard. An individual in a substandard classification with a pre-existing condition such as diabetes or heart disease can potentially pay as much as three times the amount as a healthier individual who is the same age.
Palmer says that, when writing a policy in the past, underwriters have not looked too deeply into the health of an individual under the age of 40. However, trends related to growing obesity are bringing that benchmark much lower.