IF YOU are a woman guilty of gobbling too many cakes there is no telling what other crimes you may have committed.
Or such, perhaps, is the subconscious thought-stream of male jurors, who are more likely to convict overweight female defendants than lean ones, a study has found.
The study on the influence of bodyweight on perceptions of guilt and responsibility found that men were more harshly disposed to obese women than they were to obese men.
But women were no more likely to consider obese people guilty than skinny people of either gender.
Researchers at the Yale Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity asked 471 people to participate in a mock trial.
Each participant was given an image of either an obese male, a lean male, an obese female or a lean female and asked to rate the guilt of that defendant.
Male participants judged the obese female significantly more guilty than the lean one, but female participants judged them equally.
There was no difference in either gender's assessment of the men's guilt, regardless of bodyweight.
''The results … indicate that bodyweight and sex of a defendant have an interactive effect on juror perceptions of guilt and responsibility,'' the authors wrote of their findings, published in the International Journal of Obesity.
''Male respondents endorsed greater anti-fat bias than female respondents. In addition, female participants were more likely than male participants to attribute obesity to biological and environmental causes as opposed to personal shortcomings.''
The results signalled the need to prevent weight-based discrimination in the courtroom, the authors said.
Biased jurors might need to be struck out before trial and assessments of ''anti-fat attitudes'' should be included in juror screening questionnaires and judicial training.
The finding is consistent with previous research indicating that obese women suffer greater weight-related stigma than obese men.
Jane Goodman-Delahunty, who specialises in psychology and law at Charles Sturt University, said the study corroborated research that found the appearance of defendants, including whether they were baby-faced or attractive, influenced jurors' perceptions of their guilt.