Updated 18 February 2013

Growing waistlines of South Africans ups insurance cover

The growing waistlines of more than 61% of South Africans could start affecting their pockets, with insurers raising concerns about the impact of obesity on insurance rates.


The growing waistlines of more than 61% of South Africans could start affecting their pockets, with insurers raising concerns about the impact of obesity on insurance rates. Obesity has long-term health repercussions so it is becoming an increasingly important factor when insurers assess the risk profiles of consumers applying for life, critical illness and disability insurance.

This is according to Dalene Allen, underwriting director and co-founder of Altrisk, a specialist long term risk product provider.

Alarming statistics revealed in a pharmaceutical study by GlaxoSmithKline published in 2010 show that more than 61% of South African adults are overweight or obese.More concerning is that of this group, 78% of obese and 52% of morbidly obese people consider themselves to be healthy. Capetonians have the worst record with 72% of them overweight. Pretoria follows at 68% and Johannesburg at 59%. In Durban the number is closer to 52%.

“When looking at the global obesity epidemic, the South African situation carries a little more weight than in many other countries,” says Dalene.

Heart attacks still high

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, heart attacks and strokes kill three South Africans every hour and although people around the world are living longer, South Africans are living shorter lives.  Our mortality rate in 2015 will drop to that of 1955 – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO),life expectancy at birth in 1955 was just 48 years.

This is closely linked to the fact that six out of ten South Africans are now clinically overweight or obese. Even more concerning, is that a quarter of teenagers, and one in six children under nine also fit this description.

Another study by London’s Imperial College, found as much as three-quarters of South African women to be overweight, up from 57% in 1980. This study classified 43% as obese, up from 24% in 1980. Men are only a shade trimmer, with 62% reckoned to be overweight.

Obesity is bad for your health

Studies have proven that obesity increases the risk of developing a variety of conditions and diseases, which in turn lead to a greater likelihood of morbidity and death.For some time evidence has shown that obesity increases the risk of acquiring conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. New research indicates that this also extends to conditions such asarthritis, liver disease, bone fractures and various types of cancer. In addition, extra weight around the middle and upper parts of the body, known as an ‘apple shape’, is a key factor in the development of Metabolic Syndrome, a condition where a group of risk factors occur simultaneously and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

“The increase in these critical illnesses is particularly important, because of the increased number of claims that could follow.  More claims mean higher premiums, so those responsible for assessing insurance applications and rates are becoming increasingly concerned when rating the obese,” explains Dalene. 

What does it mean for you?

“Historically, most insurers have not considered loading insurance premiums until BMIs of above 40 - considered to be the measure of morbid obesity. Given the scientific evidence that obesity leads to a greater likelihood of morbidity and death, and the repercussions for the long-term health of consumer, it could mean that clients could start paying higher premiums at weight levels that were previously ignored by insurers,” she adds.  

Do something about it!

There are clear and significant health benefits associated with weight loss. Just a 10kg decrease in weight results in many benefits:

  • 20% decrease in total mortality
  • 30% decrease in diabetes-related deaths
  • 40% decrease in obesity-related cancer deaths

“Consumers can improve upon a less than favourable insurance rating by dramatically improving their health prospects with a genuine commitment to simple lifestyle changes.  If not, overweight South Africans may very soon be coughing up a lot more for their insurance cover,” concludes Dalene.

(Press release, October 2012) 


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