ASU criminologist appointed director of National Institute of Justice

October 30, 2014

Nancy Rodriguez, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, part of the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University, has been appointed by President Barack Obama to be the next director of the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice.

Rodriguez is a nationally recognized scholar in the areas of race, crime and juvenile justice. Her research interests include inequality (race/ethnicity, class, crime and justice) and the collateral consequences of imprisonment. ASU professor Nancy Rodriguez Download Full Image

“Dr. Rodriguez is an outstanding choice to lead the National Institute of Justice. This is a time when criminal justice agencies, nonprofits and the public are calling for increased evidence-based solutions to crime and criminal justice,” says Scott Decker, Foundation Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“No one is better versed in applying research to problems and reaching solutions. Nancy’s long and successful history of working with agencies will be a model for NIJ and the nation to follow,” he added.

Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Programs, says, “Dr. Rodriguez has an impressive record of both high-quality empirical research and strong partnerships with public and private organizations to put that knowledge into practice.”

“I can think of no one more qualified to lead the National Institute of Justice. Dr. Rodriguez has devoted her career to use-inspired research and has worked with agencies at all levels of government to implement evidence-based practices and to evaluate policies and programs. NIJ will indeed be in good hands during her tenure,” adds Cassia Spohn, director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Rodriguez recently completed an assessment of minority youth over-representation in the Arizona juvenile justice system. Currently, she is conducting a longitudinal study of families affected by maternal and paternal incarceration. Her work has been supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Rodriguez joined Arizona State University in 1998 after receiving her doctoral degree in political science from Washington State University.

Among her many honors, Rodriguez has received the Coramae Richey Mann Award from the American Society of Criminology and the W.E.B. DuBois Award from the Western Society of Criminology.

She is the co-author of "Just Cause or Just Because? Prosecution and Plea-bargaining Resulting in Prison Sentences on Low-level Drug Charges in California and Arizona" and co-editor of "Images of Color, Images of Crime: Readings." Her recent work has appeared in journals including Criminology, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Criminal Justice and Behavior, and Justice Quarterly.

Created in 1969, the National Institute of Justice is part of the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice. The agency plays an instrumental role in funding and supervising evidence-based criminal justice research that focuses on crime reduction and promotion of justice at the state and local level.

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Fast food marketing for children disproportionately affects certain communities

October 30, 2014

A newly published research study examining only marketing directed at children on the interior and exterior of fast food restaurants has found that the majority of black, middle-income and rural communities are disproportionately exposed to such marketing tactics.

Authored by Arizona State University researcher Punam Ohri-Vachaspati and her colleagues, the study is the first to examine the use of child-directed marketing on the interior and exterior of fast food restaurants and its relationship to demographics. It adds to a substantial body of literature on the effects of various marketing efforts on fast food consumption and their relationship to health outcomes in children. hamburger Download Full Image

In the United States, fast food is the second largest source of total energy in the diets of children and adolescents. It provides 13 percent of total calories consumed by 2- to 18-year-olds. Every day, almost a third of children aged 2 to 11 years and more than 40 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds consume food and drinks from fast food restaurants.

“Fast food companies in the U.S. spend nearly a quarter of their marketing budgets targeting youth aged 2 to 17 years,” said Ohri-Vachaspati, an associate professor of nutrition in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. “In 2009, fast food restaurants spent more than $700 million to market their products to children and adolescents; nearly half of the amount went toward premiums such as kids’ meal toys.”

The study considered a total of 6,716 fast food restaurants – chain and independently owned – between 2010 and 2012. The businesses were selected from a national sample of 434 communities where public middle and high school students reside. Community-specific data were obtained at the block group level and included information regarding median household income, ethnicity and degree of urbanization.

Elements of child-directed marketing were broken down into discrete measures. Marketing tactics on the interior included indoor play area and display of kids’ meal toys. Child-directed marketing measures on the exterior of the restaurants visible from the parking lot or street included advertisements with cartoon characters; advertisements with movie, TV or sports figures; and advertisements for kids’ meal toys among others.

The researchers found that while most fast food restaurants sampled were located in non-Hispanic and majority white neighborhoods, those situated in middle-income neighborhoods, rural communities and majority black neighborhoods had higher odds of using child-directed marketing tactics.

Overall, one-fifth of restaurants sampled used one or more strategies targeting children. The indoor display of kids’ meal toys was most popular, followed by exterior ads with cartoon characters, as well as ads with kids’ meal toys. Chain restaurants had nine times greater odds of having a kids’ meal toy display on the inside; restaurants in majority black neighborhoods had almost twice the odds of having such displays compared to those in white neighborhoods.

“Marketing food to children is of great concern not only because it affects their current consumption patterns, but also because it may affect their taste and preferences,” said Ohri-Vachaspati, who studies the role that food marketing plays in driving behaviors and assesses the impact of food environments and policies in schools and in community settings. “We know that consumption of fast food in children may lead to obesity or poorer health, and that low income and minority children eat fast food more often.”

According to Ohri-Vachaspati, while several major U.S. food and beverage companies and fast food restaurants have created the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and taken other steps to encourage marketing of healthier food and beverage choices to children, there’s room for improvement.

“Despite the self-regulatory efforts, a stronger push for providing and marketing only healthy foods to children is needed, especially in disadvantaged populations,” she said. “We know that fast food is convenient and inexpensive and is often used by parents to provide quick meals to their children. We want to make it easier for parents and children, especially those at greater risk for poor diet and health, to make healthier choices by marketing only healthy food options that meet dietary guidelines to children.

“Another goal of the study is to track patterns. As marketing strategies targeting children in media are restricted as part of self-regulation, an increase in such efforts may or may not occur at restaurants. We’d like to present evidence to inform future industry and public policy initiatives.”

The study has been authored by Punam Ohri-Vachaspati from Arizona State University; Zeynep Isgor, Leah Rimkus, Lisa M. Powell, and Frank J. Chaloupka from the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Dianne C. Barker from Barker Bi-Coastal Health Consultants, Inc. in Calabasas, California.

The analytic sample used in the study is part of the Community Obesity Measures Project of Bridging the Gap, a nationally recognized research program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Media projects manager, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development