Map the Meal Gap generates two types of community-level data:
- County-level food insecurity and child food insecurity estimates by income categories and;
- 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.
Food insecurity rates and numbers
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
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).
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
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.
- 2018 Technical Brief (2016 data)
- 2017 Technical Brief (2015 data)
- 2016 Technical Brief (2014 data)
- 2015 Technical Brief (2013 data)
- 2014 Technical Brief (2012 data)
- 2013 Technical Brief (2011 data)
- 2012 Overall Food Insecurity Technical Brief (2010 data)
- 2011 Overall Food Insecurity Technical Brief (2009 data)
- 2012 Child Food Insecurity Technical Brief (2010 data)
- 2011 Child Food Insecurity Technical Brief (2009 data)