Are Jurors Biased Against Fat Women?

By Andrew Lu on January 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Some jurors may be biased against fat women when they're defendants in a trial, a new study has found.

We've all heard that overweight women may face job discrimination and even discrimination in getting health care.

But this study suggests that overweight women may tip the scales of justice -- and not in a good way -- simply by being heavyset. The results are alarming because instead of losing out on a job, obese women may actually be at a higher risk of losing their freedom.

The study performed by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity presented 471 mock jurors with a court case dealing with check fraud, reports Reuters. The pretend jurors were then shown mug shots of four possible defendants: a lean male, a lean female, an obese male, or an obese female. After viewing the images, the jurors were asked several questions about the defendant's guilt.

The study found that male jurors judged the overweight female defendant to be guilty, significantly more than the thin female defendant. On the other hand, female jurors did not appear to factor weight into their decisions at all.

It's interesting to note that neither male nor female jurors showed discrimination against overweight men who were defendants in the mock court case.

So what does this mean for overweight women? It's not exactly clear.

On the one hand, one can argue that the specific crime used in this study -- check fraud -- fit in with people's stereotypes of fat women, such as being greedy, selfish, or lacking impulse control, reports Reuters. Perhaps if the study had chosen a different type of crime, such as assault and battery, the results may have been different.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that appearance does play a role in many people's decision-making processes, including jurors. This starts from the first impression and extends into jury deliberations. If this wasn't the case, why would anyone wear a suit, put on makeup, or even don non-prescription eyeglasses before going to court?

So the study's finding that prospective jury members may be biased against overweight women for certain crimes isn't all that surprising. It's one of many factors that lawyers must consider when selecting the jurors who will decide a defendant's fate.

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