Lead author Natasha Schvey and colleagues at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity in New Haven, Conn., said weight stigma might extend to the courtroom.
The study involved 471 adult participants who were presented with a mock court case, including images of alleged defendants.
The participants viewed 1-out-4 defendant images: a lean male, a lean female, an obese male and an obese female. After viewing the image, participants were asked to rate how guilty they thought the defendant was.
The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found male participants rated the obese female defendant guiltier than the lean female defendant, but 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, the study said.
Only the obese female defendant was penalized for her weight, a finding consistent with research published in the past 20 years that shows obese females face more weight-related stigma than obese males, Schvey said.
"According to research previously conducted at the Rudd Center, the prevalence of weight-based stigmatization is now on par with rates of racial discrimination, and has been documented across multiple domains, including employment, medical, and interpersonal settings," Schvey said in a statement.