Shaving pounds off your waistline can trim your insurance costs

Obesity is the new enemy number one for people's health and longevity - and impacts on what we pay for insurance

THERE'S a new public enemy number one, and it's not in Westminster, Washington or Pyongyang. That enemy concerns our health and longevity, and therefore for what we pay for insurance.

Have you noticed the current educational and poster campaign telling us about “the second-greatest cause of cancer after smoking”? Well, the culprit is obesity.

This generation has taken great strides in giving up smoking. In old movies from the 50s and the 60s, everybody was puffing away – there's even a phrase ‘don't Bogart that fag'. But in modern movies, there's hardly a cig to be seen. Now obesity has taken centre stage as the next great health-style issue we need to deal with.

Last week's Northern Ireland ‘Health Inequalities' report has shown that obesity (and other health problems) is hitting Belfast particularly hard. Average longevity in Belfast is now the lowest of the 16 Northern Ireland Healthcare Trust local areas, at 76 for a man and 81 for a woman. Belfast folk are going down like the Titanic.

Second-worst is the north-west, where Derry/Strabane people are popping their clogs at 78 for men, and 82 for women. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or at least at the end of the Lisburn road.

It appears we should all move out to Lisburn, which came tops as the place where people live longest. A Lisburn man will be giving off about ‘Belfast people' until he's 81, and a Lisburn woman will be giving off about him until she's 84.

But the obesity “news” is actually nothing new for insurance companies. For them, it has been a significant ‘black mark' in our book, or on our insurance application form, for years – and it's one that can cost you dearly.

You see, obesity is not just about your weight. It's about your ideal weight for your build – the relation between what you weigh, and the size of your frame.

This relationship is used to calculate your ‘Body Mass Index' or BMI. If your BMI reaches 25, you are considered overweight. If it reaches 30 you are considered ‘clinically obese'. So if you have packed on the pounds through the hamburgers and chips in the last few years, you could be packing on the pounds somewhere else as well: on the cost of your insurance!

Now, it isn't all doom and gloom with regard to obesity. Some insurers give you credit these days, if you are on a recognised fitness programme. You can literally become ‘a recovering tubby'!

But our weight is not the only lifestyle issue that will affect the cost of our insurance. Others that fall into the category of ‘lifestyle choices' can have an effect as well.

This is not just contrariness on the part of insurance company actuaries, the number-crunchers who work out the probabilities, and decide what we pay.

This is real: it is because obesity and other issues are proven to affect your health, and shorten your life, causing heart disease and cancer in particular.

You may literally pay higher premiums for the simple reason that you are not likely to last as long as one of the healthy, clean-living burghers of Lisburn.

Which other lifestyle choices can hurt your health? Nothing new here – the more enjoyable something is, the more we need to avoid it. Surprise, surprise, the other real killers are the fags and the booze.

Tobacco, they say, is the only product permitted for sale that kills half of its users. It's true! One in two habitual smokers will die of a smoking-related disease.

As for alcohol, the recommended maximum weekly consumption varies, depending on whose figures you look at. The UK Chief Medical Officer's guideline is14 units a week. That's about one and a half bottles of wine, or five pints of beer, and it applies to both men and women.

So by cleaning up your lifestyle, shaving off the pounds, or going on a healthy diet, you can shave the pounds off the cost of your insurance as well. You might even be issued the papers you need to visit Lisburn!

:: Michael Kennedy is an independent financial adviser and pensions specialist, and can be contacted on 028 71886005. Further information on Facebook at Kennedy Independent Financial Advice Ltd.

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