The idea that people are stigmatized for their weight should come as no surprise to anyone at this point. But the places where weight bias creeps in continue to amaze. This week, a study from researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity indicates that weight stigma extends to the courtroom, specifically against women. Published online in the International Journal of Obesity, the study shows that a defendant’s body weight and gender impact jurors’ perceptions of guilt and responsibility.
According to a press release issued by Yale, Rudd Center researchers conducted an online study with 471 adult participants. The participants were presented with a mock court case, including images of alleged defendants. Participants viewed one of four defendant images — a lean male, a lean female, an obese male, and an obese female. After viewing the image, participants were then asked to rate how guilty they thought the defendant was.
Male participants rated the obese female defendant guiltier than the lean female defendant, whereas female respondents judged the two female defendants equally regardless of weight. Among all participants, there were no differences in assessment of guilt between the obese male and lean male defendants.
Only the obese female defendant was penalized for her weight, a finding that is consistent with research published in the past 20 years that shows obese females face more weight-related stigma than obese males.
The authors say that these findings demonstrate the depth of weight stigma and a crucial need to extend weight bias reduction efforts to the legal setting.