Jurors are supposed to be impartial but, as one recent study attests, personal prejudices can easily creep in. According to a study conducted by Yale University researchers, male jurors are more likely to find obese defendants guilty.

The researchers assembled a group of 471 individuals, both men and women. The "jurors" were presented with the facts of a case about check fraud. They were also shown images of one of four defendants: a thin man, an obese man, a thin woman and an obese woman. Using a five-point scale, the participants were asked to rate how guilty they thought the defendants were.

None of the participants judged the men any differently regardless of size. However, that was not true of the female defendants. While women judged both the lean and the heavyset women the same, male jurors judged the obese woman more harshly. The lean male jurors were worst of all, labeling the obese female defendants with terms like "repeat offenders". The finding is consistent with other research that finds that obese women face more of a weight-related stigma than obese men.

"According to research previously conducted at the Rudd Center [at Yale University], 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," lead author Natasha Schvey said in a statement.

The study goes on to add, "Given the rampant stereotypes of obese individuals as greedy, lazy and lacking self control, further investigation of whether jurors are more likely to ascribe guilt to an obese defendant versus a lean defendant is warranted, especially for those crimes that may be perceived as in accordance with existing stereotype."

The study's findings prompted the American Bar Association to suggest methods to combat weight bias, like screening questionnaires.

While the study may seem disheartening to some, it cannot be altogether unexpected. A study published last year in Current Anthropology found that prejudice against obese individuals is rampant, not just in the United States but worldwide. In addition, a 2008 study published in Political Research Quarterly found that men were more tolerant of discrimination than women; according to the study, men were more tolerant of racial profiling and of discrimination against the obese.

The current study was published in the International Journal of Obesity.