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Overweight people perceived as 'too fat' to commit crimes, study shows

Published 27/09/2015

The study found that people are less likely to suspect an overweight person of committing a crime
The study found that people are less likely to suspect an overweight person of committing a crime

People who are overweight are seen as "too fat" to commit crimes, research suggests.

A study found those of muscular build were regarded as the most likely to commit crimes, followed by people of normal weight.

Just 10% of those who were overweight were regarded as most likely to commit a crime.

Dr Julia Shaw, senior lecturer in criminology at London South Bank University, who carried out the study, said: "Stereotypes about body type may be getting in the way of justice.

"Our findings suggest that if you are an innocent suspect of a crime but happen to be muscular, you may be at a significant disadvantage.

"Body type is often overlooked as a basis for discrimination, and has rarely been examined in legal contexts.

"The present research is evidence that the body type of a suspect can impact the partiality of eye-witness accounts."

The research on 93 people was published in the journal Psychiatry, Psychology and Law.

The participants were shown one of two short videos, depicting a violent or non-violent robbery.

In one video, the victim had their wallet stolen, and then was violently assaulted and knocked to the ground.

The other video involved a non-violent crime where the victim's wallet was stolen without them noticing.

The thief was dressed in a way that concealed their body and face.

People were then asked to identify the thief from a suspect line-up of muscular, overweight and normal suspects.

The photos in the line-up had been previously altered so that each face in the line-up was randomly assigned a body-type.

The true thief was not offered as a suspect choice in the line-up. This meant the participants in the study had to rely on their own judgements and bias to choose suspects.

The results found that 51% of participants accused muscular suspects of being the perpetrator in the video.

Some 37% thought suspects of a normal weight were most likely to have committed the crime. Just 10% believed overweight suspects could be the aggressor.

Dr Shaw said: "It's surprising that this was the outcome for both of our scenarios, a violent mugging and a simple theft.

"We may have expected that muscular body types may have played a bigger role in the scenario involving a physical altercation, but this was not the case.

"Muscular men were always at a disadvantage compared to individuals of other statures, regardless of the type of crime.

"In practice this means that police may benefit from ensuring that suspects in police line-ups are matched as much as possible on body type to avoid relying on stereotypes."

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