Are you “too muscular” for a term life insurance policy?

Most term life insurance companies use the Body-Mass Index test to consider an applicant's health and eligibility. The BMI test only takes into consideration height and weight, and it is well known that muscle is more dense than fat.

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Tim is a licensed life insurance agent with 23 years of experience helping people protect their families and businesses with term life insurance. He writes and creates stuff for QuickQuote and other insurance and financial websites.

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Written by Tim Bain
Founder & Life Insurance Agent Tim Bain

Benjamin Carr was a licensed insurance agent in Georgia and has two years' experience in life, health, property and casualty coverage. He has worked with State Farm and other risk management firms. He is also a strategic writer and editor with a background in branding, marketing, and quality assurance. He has been in military newsrooms — literally on the frontline of journalism.

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Reviewed by Benji Carr
Former Licensed Life Insurance Agent Benji Carr

UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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The Body-Mass Index (BMI) has been around since the mid-1800’s and is defined as an individual’s body weight divided by the square of his/her height. BMI does not measure the percentage of actual body fat a person has. However, it is the current preferred method for measuring body fat percentage among ratios of weight and height by most health professionals and life insurance companies.

Life insurance companies often check your health to make sure they are not taking a risk by insuring you. A BMI calculation is a part of that. Providing life insurance to obese people can be considered a risk, so a high BMI might make finding a life insurance policy more difficult for you.

This sounds all well and good, but what if you are very athletic and not even close to being fat? If this describes your body type, you may find yourself being measured unfairly using the BMI calculation.

Why BMI?

The accuracy of the BMI measurement has been the cause of much debate in health circles. This is because BMI only takes into consideration height and weight. It’s well known that muscle is much more dense than fat. Thus it takes up less space than an equal weight of fat. Therefore, a very muscular person could have the same BMI as a person who has a lot of fat. The BMI calculation will consider these very different body types to be the same.

The BMI range considered to be healthy is 18.5 to 24.9. Anything above 25 is considered overweight, and anything over 30 is considered obese. According to these standards, many professional athletes would be regarded as overweight or obese. When Mike Tyson was in his prime, he would have been considered obese with a BMI of 30.4 (5’11″ and 218 lbs). LeBron James would today be considered overweight with a BMI of 27.5 (6’8″ and 250 lbs).

Few would argue that Mike Tyson and LeBron James are obese and overweight respectively (and even fewer would dare say it to them personally!). The mere thought of such characterizations seems ludicrous and unfair. There is hope for change though, as the Body-Adiposity Index (BAI) is starting to gain ground. BAI is a newer method used to measure body fat utilizing height and hip circumference rather than height and weight. This allows for a more accurate measurement on muscular people.

According to the Obesity Research Journal (, BAI is calculated as:

BAI = ((hip circumference) / ((height) 1.5) – 18)

Term Life Insurance and BMI

Life insurance companies are extremely lenient regarding BMI measurements. Some companies will allow a BMI of up to 32 for the Preferred rating class (assuming all other factors are within range). But if you happen to have a high BMI due to an athletic or muscular build, you may still find yourself on the wrong side of the BMI guidelines used to qualify for the best rating class and lowest premium for your term life insurance policy. We are hopeful that life insurance companies will soon adopt the BAI method of measurement to more accurately assess athletic and muscular applicants.

Talk to your doctor to determine what body fat percentage is healthy for you. Few people know their BMI, and even fewer know their BAI. Do you know yours?

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