NU Online News Service, April 6, 2004, 9:40 a.m. EST – Obesity is becoming a huge issue for the life insurance industry, a Swiss Re study concludes.[@@]

Recent estimates put the prevalence of profound chubbiness in the developed world at around 10% to 20% for men and 10% to 25% for women, notes Swiss Re, in Zurich. In the developing world, only around 5% are obese, but that figure is expected to swell in the future.

In the United States and United Kingdom, obesity has increased 2 to 3 times in the last 20 years, and other developed countries show similar trends.

The problem is particularly acute in the younger generation. In the U.S., the prevalence of obese children aged 6 to 11 has doubled over the past two decades.

Because of its links to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and many types of cancer, life insurers can no longer afford to ignore obesity, Swiss Re says.

The growing levels of corpulence run counter to the overall decline in mortality rates seen in most developed nations in recent decades, the study observes. Mortality improvements have been due to progress in medical treatment, a reduction in heart disease and declining tobacco use. But if obesity levels had remained stable, it is likely that mortality would have improved even more, according to the study.

Even though the effects of obesity are expected to be offset by continuing improvement in mortality, insurers need to evaluate its health risks accurately and be sure to charge customers a premium fitting to that risk, Swiss Re concludes.