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Insurers deem British & Irish Lions unfit

Sam WarburtonLife insurers use a height to weight measurement to judge your health. A high figure means high premiums. But this would deem rugby's British and Irish Lions unhealthy. Is that fair?

Next weekend sees the start of the long-awaited rugby union Test series between Australia and the British and Irish Lions.

The three matches, which begin in Brisbane on Saturday [22 June], will feature some of the fittest and strongest sportsmen in the world.

So why would some companies regard many of these individuals, including Sam Warburton pictured above, as a higher-than-average risk when it comes to providing life insurance?

Body mass index

The answer lies in a measurement called body mass index, or BMI.

This is a figure which shows the relationship between a person's height and weight.

To get your BMI, you divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared.

There are plenty of calculators online to help you with this calculation. Try the BMI calculator on the NHS website.

A BMI of between 18.5 and 25 is considered ideal: higher than 25 is seen as overweight, while a BMI of 30 plus indicates obesity.

High BMI means high premiums

Many insurers use their customers' BMIs – as well as other factors such as age, medical history and whether they smoke – when setting life insurance premiums.

This is because overweight and obese people are more likely to suffer health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

But the trouble is that a high BMI doesn't always mean someone is overweight – as we can see with rugby players.

Most top players carry a great deal of muscle, which means that for their height, they weigh more than average.

Fit versus fat

But a suggestion that this extra weight is unhealthy, as it would be for someone carrying a lot of extra fat, appears to be clearly mistaken.

Research carried out by shows that 58 per cent of the 2013 Lions squad would be considered overweight according to BMI figures.

A further 37 per cent would fall into the obese category.

Matthew Lloyd, head of life insurance at, says: "Considering our Lions squad are the example of perfect fitness this clearly demonstrates that BMI is outdated.

"The obvious weakness of BMI is that it doesn't distinguish between fat and muscle.

"BMI could therefore could flag a really lean, muscle-bound person as a higher risk than they would be in reality."

Shortcomings of using BMI

The good news is that some providers are starting to recognise the shortcomings of using BMI as the definitive measure of a customer's health.

Matthew Gledhill, managing director of life insurance provider Beagle Street, says his firm is more interested in waist measurements.

"Research shows that other things need to be considered when measuring a person's BMI, as this conventional formula doesn't allow for where fat is distributed," he explains.

"That's why Beagle Street also considers people's waist or dress sizes to get a more accurate reading."

Check your waist size

Gledhill says, according to the British Heart Foundation, the risk of the likes of heart disease and diabetes is greater in those with larger waists.

This approach would be likely to lead to lower life insurance premiums for those lean-but-heavy Lions.

Lloyd adds: "We welcome the fact that certain life insurance providers are looking at more than BMI to get a more accurate predictor of an individual's health."

What do you think?

Is BMI a good measure of a person's health and fitness?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on the message board below.

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Chris Torney

Chris Torney

Chris is the former personal finance editor at the Daily Express. He's been a journalist for more than 10 years and contributes to a wide range of finance and business titles.Read more from Chris

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