How We Got the Map Data

Map the Meal Gap generates two types of community-level data:

  1. County-level food insecurity and child food insecurity estimates by income categories and;
  2. An estimate of the food budget shortfall that food insecure individuals report as their experience.

On this page are the study methodology and technical briefs that provide greater detail about the methods and data.

Study Methodology

                              Food insecurity rates and numbers

Food Insecurity Rate Icon

The relationship between food insecurity and closely linked indicators
of food insecurity (poverty, unemployment, homeownership, etc.) are
first analyzed at the state level. Then, the coefficient estimates from
this analysis are used in conjunction with the same variables from the
county level. Together, these variables can generate estimated food
insecurity rates for individuals and children at the county level.


                              Food budget shortfall

Food Budget Shortfall Icon

Responses from food insecure households to the Current Population
Survey (CPS) questions about a food budget shortfall are calculated at
the individual level and then averaged to create a weekly food budget
shortfall. This national average weekly shortfall can be annualized by
multiplying the estimate by 52 (weeks per year) and applying the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finding that food-insecure households are food insecure in seven months during the
                              year. Therefore, the total food budget shortfall is calculated as
                              follows: (# of individuals in food-insecure households) x (additional
                              $ needed per person per week) x (52 weeks) * (7/12 months). 


                             Cost-of-food index

Cost of Food Index Icon

To establish a relative price index that allows for comparability between
counties, Nielsen assigns every sale of UPC-coded food items in a
county to one of the 26 food categories in the USDA Thrifty Food Plan
(TFP). These are then weighted to the TFP market basket based on
pounds purchased per week by age and gender. In this analysis, the
variable examined are pounds purchased by males age 19-50 to allow
for relative pricing between counties. The total market basket is then
                             translated into a multiplier that can be applied to any dollar amount.
                             The multiplier differs by county and reveals differences in food costs at
                             the county level.


                              National average meal cost

National Meal Cost Icon

The average dollar amount spent on food per week by food-secure individuals is divided by 21 (assuming 3 meals per day and 7 days per week). Reported food expenditures by food-secure individuals are used to ensure that the result best reflects the cost of an adequate diet. We then weight the national average cost per meal by the “cost-of-food index” to derive a local estimate. Note that the “meal gap” is descriptive of a food budget shortfall, rather than a literal number of


Annual Technical Briefs

The 2019 Map the Meal Gap report and technical appendix are combined into one document. Read the 2019 Full Report and Technical Appendix (2017 data).

The 2011 - 2018 editions of Map the Meal Gap included a separate technical brief to provide further details on the study methodology. An archive of these briefs are below.