Every Single County in America Is Facing Hunger

Map the Meal Gap 2016 Finds Child Food Insecurity Rates as High as 42 Percent

April 28, 2016


Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, today released Map the Meal Gap 2016, the latest report on county and congressional district level food insecurity and county food cost in the United States. 

Food insecurity is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

Food insecurity exists in every county, ranging from a high of 38 percent in Jefferson County, Mississippi to a low of four percent in Loudoun Country, Virginia.

Children are at greater risk of hunger than the general population.

The highest rate of child food insecurity is 42 percent in Apache County, Arizona, home to parts of the Navajo Nation, Zuni and Fort Apache reservations.

The lowest rate of food insecurity among children is in Billings and Stark Counties, North Dakota.  Statewide in North Dakota more than 19,000 children, 11 percent, live in households that are food insecure.

“This new research documents the pervasiveness of hunger in every community in our nation. While the economy has improved and unemployment rates have declined, many people are still struggling to access adequate amounts of nutritious food for their families,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America.

Overall food insecurity rates differ across congressional districts as well. At 30 percent, Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District has the highest rate of overall food insecurity, while Virginia’s 10th Congressional District has the lowest rate of overall food insecurity at five percent.

Nearly 90 percent of counties with the highest food-insecurity rates in the country are located in the South. Nearly 3.5 million individuals are estimated to be food insecure in these southern high food-insecurity rate counties.

More than half of the counties with the highest rates of overall food insecurity are rural although rural counties make up less than half of all U.S counties. Among counties with child food-insecurity rates in the top 10 percent, 64 percent are rural.

Food insecurity is present in many households that are not living below the poverty level. There are 167 counties where the majority of food insecure children do not qualify for federal nutrition programs – such as the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and free and reduced-priced school lunch programs – including such highly populated communities as Nassau County, New York and Honolulu County, Hawaii. For these food-insecure households, the charitable food assistance network may be the only source of support.

In addition to food insecurity estimates, Map the Meal Gap 2016 reports on food price variation across counties. Using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), the study finds that, on average, food-secure individuals report spending $2.89 per person, per meal. This is a slight increase from the national average of $2.79 as reported in Map the Meal Gap 2015.

Combining this national average cost per meal with data from Nielsen, the report estimates the relative cost of a meal by county, showing a range in average meal costs as low as $2.02 in Willacy and Maverick Counties in Texas and as high as $5.61 in Crook County, Oregon. This variation illuminates the challenges faced by people at risk of hunger in many counties where food prices are high.

Map the Meal Gap 2016 uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by Nielsen (NYSE: NLSN), a global provider of information and insights. The study is supported by founding sponsor The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, ConAgra Foods Foundation and Nielsen.

The lead researcher is Dr. Craig Gundersen, Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory and a member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group.

This is the sixth consecutive year that Feeding America has conducted the Map the Meal Gap study.

“No one should have to struggle with hunger, especially in a country as rich as the United States. And yet more than 48 million people continue to be food insecure in this country. What’s more is that we know this problem affects individuals and families in every community. Our Foundation is proud to be a founding sponsor of the Map the Meal Gap project in partnership with Feeding America so we can continue raising awareness about the problem of hunger in America. We hope that this year’s report reminds us of the challenges that millions of people in communities throughout the country continue to face and strive to overcome every day.” said Howard Buffett, Chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

“For more than 20 years, ConAgra has invested in innovative programs and research to increase awareness of the issue of hunger to help reach more kids in need,” said Robert J. Rizzo, Senior Director of the ConAgra Foods Foundation.  “Findings from ’Map the Meal Gap 2016’ illustrate the vast extent of food insecurity in the United States.  Through our partnership with Feeding America, we will use these findings to help ensure its national network of food banks delivers the most effective interventions to ensure children are provided nutrient-rich food that they need to thrive.”

“We are thrilled to continue the longstanding collaboration between Nielsen and Feeding America, both through our work on Map the Meal Gap and in skills-based volunteering throughout the year,” said Crystal Barnes, VP of corporate social responsibility, Nielsen. “Nielsen is committed to finding opportunities for our data and insights to make a positive impact. Map the Meal Gap is a key example of how big data can be used for good in our world.”

Map the Meal Gap 2016 provides the following data online through an interactive map:

  • The estimated percentage of the population and number of individuals who are food insecure in every U.S. state, county and congressional district.
  • The percentage of the food-insecure population who likely qualify for SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program) and other federal nutrition programs.
  • The percentage of the food-insecure population who likely do NOT qualify for federal nutrition programs and thus often must rely on charitable food assistance programs and who also need better wages and employment opportunities to help them meet their basic needs. These are households reporting earnings higher than the federal programs income requirement.
  • The average meal cost in every state and county.
  • The food budget shortfall in every state and county.

The Map the Meal Gap 2016 interactive map allows policymakers, state agencies, corporate partners and individual advocates to develop integrated strategies to fight hunger on a community level.

A summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.

Join the conversation about Map the Meal Gap 2016 on Twitter using #MealGap.



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About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 40 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and 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. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.