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Obesity in America: Male Jurors More Likely to Think Overweight Women Are Criminals

Overweight women deal with everything from public ridicule to severe health problems, and now they apparently have to worry about how their appearance could affect them in the courtroom. New research from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity finds that male jurors are more likely to find heavier women guilty than lean women. Trim men were much more likely than overweight men to find an overweight woman guilty, declaring the females "repeat offenders" who had "awareness" of their legal wrongdoings.

Lynn Grefe, the president of the National Eating Disorders Association, found the results upsetting, telling ABC News, “I think it’s one more nail in the coffin of how painful it is for people that are of larger sizes. These people could be healthy. We’re judging people. We’re making stereotypes. We did this with race years ago. We did it with religion.”

Academics came up with the findings by showing 471 study participants a picture of one of four people — a thin woman, an obese woman, an overweight man, and a lean man — and asked the samples to decide whether the individual in question was guilty of an imaginary check fraud scandal. Obese women got the short end of the stick, as many of them were found guilty by men, who were much easier on their own gender than they were on females.

Top researcher Natasha Schvey said the findings are “disappointing but not entirely surprising.” This isn't the first piece of research to attest that overweight women face more disadvantages than their skinny counterparts.

In fall 2010, a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology revealed that packing on pounds can be a lot more damaging to a female's professional earnings than than of men: "For women, increases in weight have negative linear effects on pay, but the negative effects are stronger at below-average than at above-average weight levels." Though thin women receive "the most severe punishment for their first few pounds of weight gain," women described as "very thin" took home approximately $22,000 more than their average weight counterparts, and "heavy" and “very heavy” ladies lost more than $9,000 and nearly $19,000 than folks of average weight.

Though men were more critical of overweight women, women were softer on each other, and Grefe thinks this is because most females understand how tough it can be to unsuccessfully try to slim down: "I think [it may be] because many women have gone on diets and had difficult times, and they’re not meeting their weight goals. I think they’re more understanding. A piece of it is [that] they feel sorry for them because they’ve been through it themselves."

The people behind this study went on to say that weight-based discrimination against women is consistent with other research done on the subject over the past two decades. Schvey said one possible explanation for the findings was that some perceive overweight individuals to be greedy, selfish types with little self-control or discipline. This view, she said, needs to fade away.

"It's important to look at weight stigma not only as a public health priority but also as a source of sweeping social injustice," Schvey told Thomson Reuters, adding that we need to have federal laws at the state and federal level to look out for overweight people. At present, federal anti-discrimination laws don't apply to overweight or obese people, and if some of us are going to assume they're guilty just because they look a certain way, we need legislation protecting them from our own biases.

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