How We Got the Map Data

This page offers an overview of the Map the Meal Gap methodology and links to technical briefs that provide greater detail about the methods and data


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

  1. Local food insecurity estimates among all individuals and children by income category
  2. Local food expenditure estimates among people who are food insecure and food secure

This page offers an overview of the Map the Meal Gap methodology and links to technical briefs that provide greater detail about the methods and data. Read the most recent technical brief for the latest Map the Meal Gap study released in 2023 and reflecting 2021 data.


Study Methodology

Food insecurity rates and numbers
Three people

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



Food budget shortfall
Knife and fork

Responses from food insecure households to the Current Population Survey 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 again by 7/12 (the average number of months in a year that food-insecure households experience food insecurity per the U.S. Department of Agriculture). 


Cost-of-food index
Dollar bills

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) and then weights those categories based on actual pounds purchased per week. We then apply county and sales tax rates to the Nielsen market basket prices to create a relative price index that, when applied to the national average meal cost, reveals differences in the cost of food at the local level. 



National average meal cost
Shopping cart

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 adjust the national average cost per meal by a relative food cost index to derive a local estimate. 




Annual Technical Briefs

Since 2013, Feeding America has released an annual Map the Meal Gap report that featured data on both child and overall food insecurity.

In 2011 and 2012, Feeding America released separate Map the Meal Gap reports for overall and child food insecurity.