“Three little letters changed the outcome and future of our devastated family. BMI.”

 In Emotional, Environmental, Nutrition, public

Life insurance – two words.

Both words are strong on their own, but together are the key to protecting loved ones. We have an application process over the phone, tell the operator all of our details, sign the insurance over, and beam with pride and joy knowing that we can leave our families with financial means once we eventually leave the earth. A good deed, and one that leaves us with a sense of relief. Yet why do we always question if it’s worth it?

The insurance company’s vocabulary? Applications, money, payouts, cover, guidelines, rejection (their favourite word of them all). Our vocabulary? Love, compassion, care, humility, vulnerability. The vocabulary between the insurance company and the wider community never the same, yet never distinguished when taking out life insurance. It wasn’t until I heard the words from my brother, pained and stressed, that my whole perspective changed.

“Dad’s life insurance got denied.”

“You mean the $200,000 that Dad made sure that we would get won’t come through?”

“No Kayla, I tried to dispute it but they wouldn’t budge. I asked numerous solicitors, and they said it was a lost cause.”

“Why would they do this?”

“His BMI was over.”

Anger, irritation, devastation. In that moment, I felt nothing. You know that feeling when you’re that angry that you can’t possibly let it out? Your body shuts down and fight or flight kicks in. You want to fight, beg, plead that the company reconsiders – the fight option. But instead you cry, question and give up – the flight option. Suddenly your head is up in the clouds where your loved one is, peaceful and safe. Until you realise that you’re still on the ground, you still have to deal with the situation at hand, and that you can’t possibly take on a big top dog insurance company. It’s a lost battle before you’ve even entered the boxing ring full of the word ‘no’ or ‘rejection’. Gloves on, but you have to surrender. What’s the point in even trying?

Three little letters changed the outcome and future of our devastated family. BMI. Let’s add the word of ‘controversy’ to our vocabulary while we’re at it shall we? Those numbers that determine whether we’re underweight or overweight. Obese or normal. We get put into a category and get told to act accordingly. Before delving into the reasons why BMI is an expired medical method, lets lay down some groundwork.

BMI, also known as Body Mass Index, was created in the early 19th century. It is a measurement that medical professionals use in order to gauge if their patient is considered underweight, normal, overweight or obese. It is generated using an individual’s height and weight (weight (kg)/ height (m2)). This then allows medical professionals to put them into one of the categories below:

Under 18 – Underweight
18–24.9 Healthy weight range
25.0–29.9 Overweight
30.0–34.9 Obesity I
35.0–39.9 Obesity II
40.0 (and above) Obesity III

Medical professionals claim to use this tool to assess whether their patient is at risk of diseases and illnesses caused by weight. I have had my BMI assessed a few times at the doctors, and told them I’d prefer not to know what the number is. Why? I exercise daily, I eat healthy, and I continue to stay active. Sure, I have curves and a little extra meat on my bones. However, being told I’m obese when I clearly don’t look it at all? No way in hell.

The people around me have this same issue, most of them fit as a fiddle. Doctor’s opinion? Overweight. My friend’s opinion? “I’m healthy”. There are so many limitations to BMI, and many that people aren’t even slightly aware of. BMI fails to take into consideration the simplest of attributes – age and gender being two of them. It also fails to recognise that body fat and muscle are very different in density. Muscle weighs more than body fat, and can claim individuals as being at a higher BMI even though they don’t look slightly overweight. Limitations for groups such as bodybuilders, figure competitors, the elderly, pregnant women and various ethnic groups are often subdued to the higher classification of BMI. They are left feeling stunned when being told that they are overweight or obese by doctors; yet feel healthy and happy in their skin.

My Dad was one of these people. He had been overweight for majority of his life, and his BMI had reflected that accordingly at the time. After a dramatic weight loss surgery to reduce his risk of health problems, he tried his absolute hardest to keep the weight off. When applying for his life insurance, he felt empowered. He knew that this would be the start of security, the key to supporting our family when he could no longer be here physically to provide. He called the insurance company, spoke to the operator and answered the application truthfully. During the process, he was asked for his height and weight. Not once was he told that this would be used to calculate his BMI, and not once did he second-guess. Over the course of the few years that he had been paying his premium for life insurance – his weight changed, his health changed and so did his BMI. Weight gain and weight loss, all a normal part of life, right?

It was on one doctor’s visit that his BMI was over. Just one. He bettered his health throughout the years, maintaining a healthy BMI for the few years before he passed. Five years’ worth of medical records that the insurance company requests, but never did they look at whether my Dad was trying to make a positive change to his health. Instead they focus in on the numbers and not the overall big picture of what health is.

How are we supposed to feel comfortable and put our minds at ease when we know that our BMI has to be perfect in order to get a payout for our families? Are we supposed to call the life insurance company every time we put on five kilos to get our premium changed? Why are we paying a premium if we don’t even qualify for it anymore? Questions. Questions that we never really think about until this situation happens to us, or to someone close to us.

Life has enough trials and tribulations without having to constantly think about whether our family will get the financial support when it’s our time to go because of a number that is pre-determined and expired. We put the fate of our families into the operator’s hands at that point in time. We truly believe that we are doing the right thing.

The honest truth is that thousands of families go through this every year. The questioning of why, the sadness, the anger. The struggle of bills piling up after our loved one passes away. Another phone call of an overdue payment, another letter in the mail reminding us of the money we don’t have. Each time we think, “if only we had the life insurance money”, “I can’t afford this”, “why me? I’m already going through enough as it is.”

My dad was my knight in shining armour, my world; his intentions pure and his heart in the right place. I’m not writing this article to complain about what’s wrong with the policies, I’m writing to try and change them moving forward. I’m writing this to try and make individuals aware, to try and open people’s eyes before they think about taking out life insurance. I’m doing this for the families that are going through what my family has over the past nine months. Losing someone so close to you isn’t just the losing the person, it’s dealing with what happens afterwards as well. Grief isn’t black and white, its filled with shades of grey, red, blue – every colour imaginable. Every word imaginable.

We’ve been speaking a lot about vocabularies and words, so I’m now going to make my own definitions to leave you thinking about.

BMI – an expired medical term that has served its purpose, but needs to develop with the rest of the world.

Humility – a word I thought was in every person’s vocabulary, but isn’t when it comes to money.

Resilience – trying to make the change for the future, regardless of being unable to change the past.

 – Kayla Daly

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