Research Highlights Variations in Food Costs Throughout the U.S.

September 29, 2016

Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap 2016 study finds many low-income communities that are home to a significant number of food-insecure households have higher-than-average food costs.

The study, released earlier this year finds that, on average, food-secure individuals report spending $2.89 per person, per meal. This marks a slight increase from the national average of $2.79 as reported in 2015.

“Map the Meal Gap 2016 puts dollars on the data, uncovering everything from money spent on meals, to resources needed to close the food-budget shortfall of food insecure households,” said Crystal Barnes, vice president of corporate social responsibility, Nielsen. “Hunger and Nutrition is a key priority area for our Nielsen Cares program and Map the Meal Gap is a strong example of the difference data can make in advancing social challenges.” 

Map the Meal Gap 2016 estimates the relative cost of an average meal for each county in the nation based on data provided by Nielsen (NYSE: NLSN), a global provider of information and insights.

Among the study’s findings:

  • The lowest meal cost is $2.02, in Maverick and Willacy Counties, Texas.
  • The highest meal cost is $5.61, in Crook County, Oregon.
  • The meal-cost data demonstrates that 25.4 million food-insecure people, more than half of the total reported, live in areas where food costs are higher than the national average.

Among the 77 counties with estimated food-insecure populations of 100,000 or more, meal costs are 5 percent higher on average. In New York County, where more than 243,000 individuals are estimated to be food insecure, the average meal cost is 58 percent higher.

“This research underscores the great challenges the people we serve face,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America. “Not only do they have to make tough choices on what bills must get paid each month, but they also are forced to spend more of their limited budgets to put food on the table.”

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.  Nielsen assigned each UPC-coded food item to one of the 26 food categories in the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). These categories were weighted within the TFP market basket based on pounds purchased per week by age and gender. This total market basket was then translated into a county-specific multiplier (normalized to a value of 1). This price index enables Feeding America to provide local estimates for meal cost, food budget shortfall and meal gap.

This information allows food banks and anti-hunger advocates to better understand and communicate the level of need and the challenges facing food-insecure families in their communities.

Map the Meal Gap is a study conducted annually by Feeding America. Map the Meal Gap 2016 is the sixth year this data has been compiled. It provides estimates of food insecurity and child food insecurity at both the county and congressional district levels. 

According to data from the Current Population Survey, food-insecure individuals in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available) reported needing, on average, an additional $16.82 per person per week.

To calculate the weekly food budget shortfall per food-insecure person for each county, the researchers multiply $16.82 by the county multiplier from the relative price index, and are thereby able to calculate the local food budget shortfall. 

The report estimates that the total annual "food budget shortfall" across all food-insecure Americans is $24.6 billion, an increase of $300 million from last year and the highest reported need since 2010.

The full findings of Map the Meal Gap 2016 were released in April of this year and can be found at map.feedingamerica.org.  

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Methodology

Feeding America develops its annual Map the Meal Gap report through a variety of different data sources. Map the Meal Gap 2016 estimates the relative cost of an average meal for each county in the nation based on data provided by Nielsen (NYSE: NLSN), a global provider of information and insights. 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. Nielsen assigned each UPC-coded food item to one of the 26 food categories in the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). These categories were weighted within the TFP market basket based on pounds purchased per week by age and gender. This total market basket was then translated into a county-specific multiplier (normalized to a value of 1). This price index enables Feeding America to provide local estimates for meal cost, food budget shortfall and meal gap. To calculate the weekly food budget shortfall per food-insecure person for each county, the researchers multiply $16.82 by the relative price index for that county, and are thereby able to calculate the local food budget shortfall. 


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About Feeding America

Feeding America is the nationwide network of 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States. Together, we provide food to more than 46 million people through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in communities across America. Feeding America also supports programs that improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate. Together we can solve hunger. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

About Nielsen

Nielsen Holdings plc (NYSE: NLSN) is a global performance management company that provides a comprehensive understanding of what consumers Watch and Buy. The Company’s Watch segment provides media and advertising clients with Nielsen Total Audience measurement services across all devices where content—video, audio and text—is consumed. The Buy segment offers consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers the industry's only global view of retail performance measurement. By integrating information from its Watch and Buy segments and other data sources, Nielsen provides its clients with both world-class measurement as well as analytics that help improve performance. Nielsen, an S&P 500 company, has operations in over 100 countries that cover more than 90% of the world's population. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.

 

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