Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap 2015 study finds many low-income communities that are home to a significant number of food-insecure households have higher-than-average food costs.
"In other words, many of the people we serve not only struggle to make ends meet, but they are also forced to spend more of their meager dollars to put food on the table than much of the rest of the country," said Matt Knott, president of Feeding America.
Map the Meal Gap 2015 estimates the relative cost of an average meal for each county in the nation based on data provided by Nielsen, a global provider of information and insights.
Among the study's findings:
The lowest meal cost is $1.97, in Maverick County, Texas.
The highest meal cost is $5.01, in Crook County, Oregon.
The meal-cost data demonstrates that 26.4 million food-insecure people live in areas where food costs are higher than the national average.
Nielsen analyzed nationwide sales data from Universal Product Code (UPC)-coded food items to establish a relative price index that allows for comparisons of food prices across the country. Nielsen assigned each UPC-coded food item to one of the 26 food categories in the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (TFP). These categories were weighted within the TFP market basket based on pounds purchased per week by age and gender. This total market basket was then translated into a county-specific multiplier (normalized to a value of 1). This price index enables Feeding America to provide local estimates for meal cost, food budget shortfall and meal gap.
This information allows food banks and anti-hunger advocates to better understand and communicate the level of need and the challenges facing food-insecure families in their communities.
Map the Meal Gap is a study conducted annually by Feeding America. Map the Meal Gap 2015 is the fifth year this data has been compiled. It provides estimates of food insecurity and child food insecurity at both the county and congressional district levels.
According to data from the Current Population Survey, food-insecure individuals in 2013 (the most recent year for which data is available) reported needing, on average, an additional $16.28 per person per week.
To calculate the weekly food budget shortfall per food-insecure person for each county, the researchers multiply $16.28 by the relative price index for that county, and are thereby able to calculate the local food budget shortfall.
Also according to CPS data, the research finds that food-secure individuals spend an average of $2.79 per meal, which we multiply by the relative price index to calculate the average cost per meal for each county.
The report estimates that food-insecure American households have a total "food budget shortfall" of $24.2 billion, compared to $23.5 billion in last year's report, an increase of $700 million.