Branded Resources

A Summary of Map the Meal Gap 2016

March 14, 2018   /
Elaine M. Hinzey, RD, LDN

About Map the Meal Gap 2016

  • Map the Meal Gap is a report on county and congressional district food insecurity and county food cost in the United States (US) in 2014.
  • Sponsored by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation
  • Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks, which provide food to more than 46 million people through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in America. 
  • Hunger affects more than 48 million Americans.
  • The meal gap refers to a conversion of the total annual food budget shortfall in a specified area divided by the weighted cost per meal in that area.
  • About 56% of people struggling with hunger actually have incomes above the federal poverty level.
  • Nationally, 26% of food-insecure individuals are above 185% of the poverty line and are typically ineligible for most food assistance programs. Most of these people live in metropolitan areas that tend to have higher-than-average median incomes. 

Data used in the creation of the report include, among others:

  • Current Population Survey (CPS)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
    • The unemployment rate
    • The poverty rate
    • The homeownership rate
    • Other demographic variables publicly available at both the county and state level
  • American Community Survey (ACS)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Child food-insecurity estimates were sorted into income categories associated with eligibility for child nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). 

In short, the equation used was: 

Number of food-insecure persons x weekly food budget shortfall x cost of food index x 52 weeks x 7 of 12 months = food budget shortfall reported by food insecure individuals in 2014.

Related Content

Hunger in America: Organizations and Resources

"Fooducation": Addressing Hunger in the 21st Century

Cost of food calculations

  • Nielsen analyzed nationwide sales data from Universal Product Code (UPC) coded food items to establish a relative price index that allows for comparisons of food prices across the country. 
  • Each food item was assigned to one of the 26 food categories in the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). 
  • A question on the CPS asks how much additional money they would need to buy enough food for their households. On average, food-insecure individuals reported needing an additional $16.82 per person per week, a 3% increase from $16.28 in 2013. 
  • Analysis of the CPS data reveals that food-insecure households typically experience food insecurity seven months per year. 
  • The national cost-per-meal estimate was derived from a question on the CPS asking how much the respondent’s household spends on food a week. Food-insecure individuals spend an average of $60.59 per week, which, when divided by 21, amounts to an average cost per meal of $2.89.