Yale University Study Shows Obese Women May Be Subject to Bias in the Courtroom

Yale_logoResearchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University finds that a defendant’s gender and body weight has an impact on jurors’ perception of guilt. The study involved a mock court case that research subjects viewed online. The evidence presented was the same in each instance. But images of four different defendants were used: a lean man, a lean woman, an obese man, and an obese woman.

Men who viewed the case where the defendant was an obese woman were more likely to come to a guilty verdict than men who were presented the same case when the defendant was a lean woman. Women test subjects did not judge the case differently based on the weight of the female defendant.

Women and men test subjects did not judge the case differently based on whether the male defendant was lean or obese. Only the obese woman defendant faced bias and only by male test subject jurors.

s200_natasha.schveyLead author of the study Natasha Schvey, a graduate student in psychology at Yale, states, “Weight-based discrimination is no on par with rates of racial discrimination, and has been documented across multiple domains including employment, medical, and interpersonal settings. The present study identifies yet another setting in which obese persons are vulnerable to bias and discrimination.”

The research was published on the website of the International Journal of Obesity and can be accessed here.

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  1. Abigail Saguy says:

    This study is consistent with many others that show rampant weight-based discrimination. This is not only a civil rights issue, but a public health issue as well, as this discrimination takes a toll on psychological and physical health and represents a barrier to health care. Yet, as I discuss in my book “What’s Wrong with Fat” (http://tinyurl.com/bx445qb), we rarely discuss weight-based discrimination in large part, I argue, because most people assume that being heavy is both a choice and a medical pathology (i.e., “obesity”). Its high time we start taking weight-based discrimination more seriously.

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