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Waistlines will fatten premiums

Bird flu might be getting the headlines but it will be the much closer to home issue of obesity which will affect insurance premiums, says Asteron chief underwriter Kim Harrison.

Tuesday, May 30th 2006, 5:26AM

by Rob Hosking

Harrison told a forum at the Life Brokers’ Association conference the increasing obesity of the population is the most important trend in the world likely to affect insurance premiums.

Others include war and terrorism, and immigration. Bird flu is unlikely to become an issue, he says. Despite all the alarm, the virus has not jumped species and nor is it likely to.

But obesity is a biggie.

“With 20% of the population being categorised as obese we are at some point soon going to see it appearing in stats such as death rates,” says Harrison.

“Also we’re going to see morbidity going up, with more people suffering from diabetes and heart attacks and other diseases associated with obesity.”

Asteron is now distributing body mass index (BMI) calculators to its advisers as a way of heightening awareness of the issues.

Harrison predicts a surge of government activity to fight obesity.

Of the other factors affecting the insurance industry, war and terrorism is the next most significant, he says.

Insurers are becoming increasingly jittery about this area, says Harrison.

“United States insurers are declining cover for people who ‘might’ travel of a particular destination,” he says. The issue is such there is a move to legislate to require insurers to write the business.

The other factor for insurers will be immigration, he says.

There are still comparatively high numbers of migrants from South-East Asia, “an area with a high degree of hepatitis and cancer of the liver.”

That, too, will have its impact on insurance premiums.

Rob Hosking is a Wellington-based freelance writer specialising in political, economic and IT related issues.

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