Food Insecurity Report Briefs

Map the Meal Gap 2024 (2022 data)


In order to address food insecurity, we must first understand it. Every year, Feeding America conducts the Map the Meal Gap study to learn more about food insecurity at the local level. By understanding populations in need, communities can better identify strategies for reaching the people who most need food assistance.  

To accurately estimate the number of people who may be food insecure in every U.S. county and congressional district, Map the Meal Gap uses publicly available state and local data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics on factors that research has shown to contribute to food insecurity. These factors include unemployment and poverty, as well as other demographic and household characteristics. Along with estimates of food insecurity for the overall population and for children, the study also includes local food insecurity estimates for several racial and ethnic groups. In addition to food insecurity, the study estimates the cost of a meal and the amount of need among people who are food insecure, using local data from Nielsen and national survey data from the Census Bureau.



Key Takeaways

100% of counties and congressional districts are home to people facing hunger

On average, food insecurity is approximately 13% across all counties and districts, consistent with the 13.5% of all individuals in food-insecure households as of 2022 reported by the USDA. Yet, levels of food insecurity vary by population and place. Nationally, the percentage of the overall population estimated to be food insecure ranges from a low of 6% in Renville County, North Dakota, to 29% in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota. These variations reflect differences in factors such as unemployment and poverty, and often reflect systems and policies that prevent certain households and communities from accessing the food they need.


Child food insecurity also exists in every community, and rates reach nearly 50% in some counties

While the USDA reports that 18.5% (1 in 5) of children in the U.S. may experience food insecurity, estimated rates reach as high as 48% (1 in 2) in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana. Food insecurity is also estimated to be more prevalent among children than it is among the total population in every state and in more than 9 out of 10 counties (2,988 out of 3,144). Research demonstrates links between food insecurity and poor child health and behavioral outcomes at every age, underscoring the economic and social imperative to address this issue.


8 out of 10 high food insecurity counties are in the South

The South contains 45% of all counties but is home to an estimated 84% of counties with food-insecurity rates in the top 10% (274 of 327). When looking across regions, 1 in 5 (19.3%) counties in the South are estimated to have high food insecurity, compared to 1 in 22 (4.5%) in the West and 1 in 33 (3.0%) in the Midwest. Bronx County, New York, is the only county in the Northeast that appears in the top 10%. These regional disparities are consistent with national data from the USDA, which also show that individual food insecurity rates are highest in the South (15.6% as compared to 13.0% in the Midwest, 11.7% in the West, and 11.7% in the Northeast).    

9 out of 10 high food insecurity counties are rural

While the majority (87%) of people in the U.S. live inside metropolitan (urban) areas and most people experiencing food insecurity live in urban areas (85%, or 37.4 million out of 44.2 million), the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are disproportionately rural. Rural counties (those outside of major metropolitan areas) make up 62% of all counties but represent 87% of counties with food insecurity rates in the top 10% (285 out of 327). 

Nearly 50% of people facing hunger are unlikely to qualify for SNAP

Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest food assistance program, are the first line of defense against hunger, yet many people who are food insecure have incomes or assets that are too high to qualify for these critical benefits. Income eligibility thresholds for SNAP range from 130% to 200% of the federal poverty line, which is only $40,560 to $62,400 for a family of four as of January 2024. Estimates produced through Map the Meal Gap suggest that 21 million or 47% of individuals experiencing food insecurity may not be eligible for SNAP. These estimates account for state-specific gross income limits (not asset requirements), and vary by state, from 38% in Kentucky to 75% in Utah. While there are some counties where the full food insecure population likely qualifies for SNAP (0% ineligible), the share of people experiencing food insecurity who are likely ineligible for the program is estimated to be as high as 89% in Morgan County, Utah. The quantity of households that experience food insecurity and do not qualify for SNAP further underscores the importance of charitable food assistance. While these findings only reflect SNAP income eligibility, not everyone who qualifies for SNAP is enrolled, highlighting the need to both protect and strengthen federal nutrition programs, and increase enrollment.

Food insecurity among Black or Latino individuals is higher than white individuals in more than 9 out of 10 counties with comparable data

Among Latinos, the disparity compared to white individuals reaches as high as 40 percentage points in Newton County, Texas (53% vs. 13%). For Black individuals, this discrepancy can be especially stark – for instance, in Cumberland County, Tennessee, the gap is as wide as 51 percentage points (65% vs. 13%). Moreover, in three of four counties (846 out of 1,107), estimated food insecurity among Black individuals exceeds that of Latinos, with disparities as high as 38 percentage points in Cumberland County, Tennessee (65% vs. 27%). The disparities noted above are an example of how historical, social, economic, and environmental factors have disadvantaged many communities of color, creating barriers to food security. Such findings highlight the urgent need for targeted interventions to address persistent and significant racial disparities in food security across the United States.

County food insecurity varies by as much as 59 percentage points for some racial/ethnic groups

According to national data from the USDA, the average food insecurity rate among Black, non-Hispanic individuals and Latino individuals is nearly 23% and more than 21%, respectively, while the rate among white, non-Hispanic individuals is nearly 10%. Map the Meal Gap helps to show how the risk of hunger varies by race and place. Estimated food insecurity rates among Black individuals range from 6% in Broomfield County, Colorado to 65% in Cumberland County, Tennessee. Food insecurity rates among Latino individuals range from approximately 7% in Calvert County, Maryland to 53% in Newton County, Texas. Food insecurity rates among white, non-Hispanic individuals range from 2% in the District of Columbia to 29% in Wolfe County, Kentucky. 

The national food budget shortfall swells to a record high of $33.1 billion, a 43% increase

The total annual food budget shortfall reflects the additional dollars that food-insecure individuals report needing to have just enough money to cover their food needs. For 2022, this amounted to a historical high of $33.1 billion, which is a real increase of nearly 43% over the 2021 shortfall ($21.5 billion) and higher than the previous peak of $24.6 billion in 2014 ($30.4 billion in 2022 dollars). The higher national shortfall reflects an increase in both the number of individuals experiencing food insecurity (from 33.8 million in 2021 to 44.2 million in 2022) and the average additional amount needed by food insecure individuals (from $20.91 per week in 2021 to $24.73 per week in 2022). Even after adjusting for annual average inflation, the reported shortfall among people facing hunger in 2022 still increased by 9.5% compared to the previous year, reaching its highest point in the last two decades. This suggests that rising prices, especially food prices, likely contributed to the increase in this resource gap.

The national average cost per meal rises to $3.99 in 2022

Individuals who were food secure reported spending an average of $3.99 per meal, totaling $83.79 per week or $363.09 per month. Even after adjusting for annual average inflation, the national average cost per meal increased by nearly 3% compared to the previous year, reaching its highest point in the last two decades. To provide context, this reported amount is 1.6 times as high as the average individual cost of the Thrifty Food Plan ($52.70 per week or $228.50 per month as of December 2022), which serves as the basis for calculating the maximum SNAP benefit allotments by the USDA.

County meal costs range from $2.91 to $6.67

The average amount that a food-secure individual reports spending on food varies greatly by county. The average cost per meal ranges from 73% of the $3.99 national average in Llano County, TX ($2.91) to 167% in Leelanau County, MI ($6.67), after accounting for county-level food prices and local sales taxes. As Figure 8 shows, more counties have meal costs above the average than below it, regardless of geographic location. Although the greatest number of people live in urban areas with higher costs of living, not all urban areas have high food prices, and not every rural community is affordable. For example, urban Pendleton and Gallatin counties in northern Kentucky, both part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area, have a relatively low estimated meal cost of $3.27, while rural Leelanau County in Michigan is home to the highest meal cost in the country. For individuals struggling to afford housing, utilities, transportation and other necessities, the additional burden of high food prices can have a significant impact on their household budget, wherever they may live. 


- of counties and congressional districts are home to people facing hunger


- The national average cost per meal

$33.1 billion

- The national food budget shortfall