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Fat chance of success: Powerful women in top jobs are getting slimmer... but everyone else is piling on the pounds
By Craig Mackenzie
PUBLISHED: 09:36 GMT, 24 June 2012 | UPDATED: 06:51 GMT, 25 June 2012
Enlarge Role model: Actress Meryl Streep in character in The Devil Wears Prada
Role model: Actress Meryl Streep in character in The Devil Wears Prada
Powerful career women who hold top jobs in law, medicine and business are slimming down, according official figures.
They are the only social group to lose weight in the past 15 years while the study reveals everyone else is growing fatter.
New data from the National Obesity Observatory (NOO) shows that 15 per cent of professional women were obese in 1997, but that figure had fallen to 14 per cent by 2008.
NOO, which has monitored obesity issues in the UK since 2007, highlighted how the percentage of professional men classified as fat rose from 15 to 20 per cent between 1997 and 2008.
Two reasons were said to behind the trend for slimmer women - they are still judged on their appearance rather than skill and their ambition to be better than their male colleagues.
Professional women are aware of a bias against those who are overweight, according to Andrew Hill, professor of medical psychology at Leeds University.
He said: 'Appearance is the most important attribute for women in our society. Valuing them only for their appearance is a way for me to subjugate them
'There's no doubt that to be fat in our current society is a disadvantage particularly if you are female.'
Barrister Helen Jackson, who weighs 16 stone, told the Sunday Times that obese male lawyers were accepted in her profession but female ones were not.
'The pressure on women to look the part has definitely got worse since I was called to the bar in 1975,' she said. 'Women now are slaves to their appearance more than they ever were.'
Adult obesity by social class
Adult waist circumference
In a survey published last month in Manchester and Melbourne, Australia, fat women scored worse in an assessment of their leadership potential.
The 12 candidates - six obese and six slim - had identical educational CVs, but those who were overweight were judged more poorly by volunteer students who took part in the study.
Former Tory Minister Ann Widdecombe was criticised for her appearance and subsequently lost weight when she appeared on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing show.
She said society made demands on how women should look and added: 'I think the pressure on women to be concerned about their appearance has always been there.'
But Heather Jackson, chief executive of the Women's Business Forum believes that successful female professionals are at last recognising the health benefits of being slimmer.
'You only have to look at the FTSE 100 to see the best leaders - men or women - are not obese people,' she is quoted.. 'You have to be healthy and fit to be effective.'