Map the Meal Gap generates two types of community-level data:
- County-level food insecurity estimates by income categories and;
- An estimate of the food budget shortfall that food insecure individuals report they experience.
The following provides some additional information on the methodology; a technical brief is also available for those interested in greater detail about the methods and data.
Food Insecurity Rate
Methodology: We begin by analyzing the relationship between food insecurity and indicators of food insecurity (poverty, unemployment, median income, etc.) at the state level. We then use the coefficient estimates from this analysis plus information on the same variables defined at the county level to generate estimated food insecurity rates for individuals at the county level.
Methodology: Responses from food insecure households to CPS questions about a food budget shortfall are calculated at the individual level and then averaged to arrive at a weekly food budget shortfall of $13.99. Per the USDA, households experiencing food insecurity experience this condition in, on average, in seven months of the year.
FI persons * $13.99 * 52 weeks * (7/12) = $ reported needed by the food insecure to meet their food needs in 2009
Methodology: To establish a relative price index that would allow 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. Specifically, pounds purchased by males age 19-50 are examined. While other age and gender weights may have resulted in different total market basket costs, relative pricing between counties (our goal for this analysis) would not have been affected. The total market basket is then translated into a multiplier that can be applied to any dollar amount. This multiplier differs by county, revealing differences in food costs at the county level.
National Average Meal Cost
Methodology: The average dollar amount spent on food per week by food secure individuals is divided by 21 (3 meals per day x 7 days per week). Food expenditures for food secure individuals were used to ensure that the result reflected the cost of an adequate diet. We then weight the national average cost per meal by the “cost-of-food index” to derive a localized estimate. It is important to note that the “meal gap” is descriptive of a food budget shortfall, rather than a literal number of meals.