Nielsen and Feeding America Collaborate to “Map the Meal Gap”

Food insecurity—lack of access to enough food and limited availability of nutritionally adequate foods—is a serious but often over-looked issue in the U.S. Since 2010, Nielsen has shared food pricing information to help Feeding America® address food insecurity through its nationwide network of food banks and provide much-needed support for millions of low-income Americans. Feeding America publishes its Map the Meal Gap findings in order to help food banks and anti-hunger advocates understand the challenges facing food-insecure families in their communities, as well as better communicate the level of need in each county and congressional district in the U.S.

As part of Nielsen’s commitment to using its data for good through Nielsen Cares, its global corporate social responsibility program, a team of Nielsen volunteers has supported Feeding America in this effort for the past five years. “This collaboration with Feeding America provides an opportunity each year for Nielsen to tap into its core competencies—data and insights—to make an uncommon impact,” said Crystal Barnes, vice president, corporate social responsibility, Nielsen. “Hunger and nutrition is one of our key priority cause areas through Nielsen Cares. This five-year milestone is a testament to the power of data for good and the strength of our collaboration with Feeding America.”

A startling finding from this year’s Map the Meal Gap 2015 report was that 26.4 million food-insecure people live in counties where food costs are higher than the national average of $2.79. This is based on 2013 data, the most recent year for which U.S. Government Current Population Survey data is available. “This data shows that many of the people we serve not only struggle to make ends meet, but much more of their limited income is needed just to put food on the table than the average American,” said Matt Knott, president, Feeding America.

Other findings from the study include:

  • The lowest meal cost is $1.97, in Maverick County, Texas.
  • The highest meal cost is $5.01, in Crook County, Oregon.
  • Food-secure individuals spend an average of $2.79 per meal.
  • Food-insecure individuals in 2013 reported needing, on average, an additional $16.28 per person per week.
  • Food-insecure American households have a total “food budget shortfall” of $24.2 billion.

Methodology

Feeding America develops its annual Map the Meal Gap report through a variety of different data sources. 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 (NYSE: NLSN), a global provider of information and insights. 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 one). This price index enables Feeding America to provide local estimates for meal cost, food budget shortfall and meal gap. 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.

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