Seventy-five U.S. counties had statistically significant increases in food insecurity rates, according to 2012 industry report; average food insecurity rate rose slightly among top 10% highest food insecurity counties

CHICAGO , April 30, 2012 (press release) – Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, today released "Map the Meal Gap 2012," which provides estimates of food insecurity at the county and congressional district level. Food insecurity is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

The report found that even though food insecurity rates have remained relatively stable across the nation, those communities that were previously known to have the highest rates of food insecurity have continued to climb. There are 75 counties in the U.S. that had statistically significant increases in food insecurity rates. For example, in Tensas Parish, Louisiana, the rate of food insecurity rose from 23 percent in 2009 to 27 percent in 2010. Tensas Parish County is on the boarder of Mississippi and has a poverty rate of 32 percent and an unemployment rate of 15 percent.

In addition to rates of food insecurity, "Map the Meal Gap 2012" estimates the relative cost of a meal by county, showing a range in meal cost as low as $1.80 in Zavala, Texas and as high as $5.51 in Union, South Dakota. The national cost per meal that food secure people report spending on an average meal is $2.52. This illuminates the challenges faced by people at risk of hunger in the many counties where food prices are high.

The findings were released at a press conference in Washington, D.C and can be viewed here. This is the second year the data has been compiled.

"Map the Meal Gap 2012" is based on an analysis of statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by Nielsen (NLSN), a global provider of information and insights. The study is supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and Nielsen. The lead researcher is Dr. Craig Gundersen, Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, Executive Director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory and member of Feeding America's Technical Advisory Group.

"Hunger continues to be an urgent problem in this country. In spite of positive reports about America's dropping unemployment rate, the fact is that too many people are still struggling to find work," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. "'Map the Meal Gap 2012' data underscores the incredible need for food assistance that millions of families are facing. Since this data was gathered, food costs and gas prices have climbed even higher, making it that much harder for people and families who are struggling to make ends meet."

"I have traveled to over 100 countries to meet and understand the needs of hungry people, and I have spent the last decade tackling global food insecurity. But until recently, I had always believed the United States' social safety net meant hunger did not exist in this country," said Howard Buffett, President of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. "It took a number of eye-opening visits to local food banks and many conversations with people struggling to find their next meal to understand that hunger in America is a very real problem."

Key findings of "Map the Meal Gap 2012":

* The average food insecurity rate rose slightly among the top 10 percent highest food insecurity counties.
* The high food insecurity rate counties are more economically disadvantaged compared to the national average as a whole.
* The average unemployment rate among high food insecurity rate counties is 13 percent, while the national average is less than 10 percent. Additionally, the average poverty rate among high food insecurity rate counties is 26 percent while the national average is only 15 percent.
* An overwhelming majority of counties that experienced declines in food insecurity rates saw very small and insignificant changes. The top 10 percent of counties with the lowest food insecurity rates are still home to over 3 million people struggling with hunger (i.e. food insecure).

Food insecurity continues to exist in every county.

* There is no county free from food insecurity.
* Counties range from a low of 5 percent (Steele, North Dakota) to a high of 37 percent (Holmes, Mississippi).
* Rural areas continue to be more food insecure than metro areas, however, the percentage of counties with the highest food insecurity rates in non-metro/rural areas decreased slightly from 59 percent in 2009 to 55 percent in 2010.

Food insecure individuals report needing more money in 2010 than in 2009, in order to buy enough food to meet the needs of their families.

* In 2010, on average, food insecure individuals reported needing an additional $14.30 per person per week to afford a minimally adequate diet. Whereas, in 2009, that amount was $13.99.
* Combined, the total national food budget shortfall is $21.2 billion.

"Map the Meal Gap 2012" provides the following data for each county in the United States in an interactive map format:

* The percentage of the population who is food insecure.
* The percentage of the food insecure population who likely qualify based on income for SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program) and other federal nutrition programs.
* The percentage of the food insecure population who likely do NOT qualify for federal nutrition programs and often must rely on charitable food assistance programs and who also need better wages and employment opportunities to help them meet their basic needs. These are households reporting earnings higher than the federal programs income requirement.
* The average price per meal in each county.

The "Map the Meal Gap 2012" interactive map allows policymakers, state agencies, corporate partners and individual advocates to develop integrated strategies to fight hunger on a community level.

"Anecdotes and individual testimonials do not tell the whole story of hunger," Buffett continued. "My goal in funding 'Map the Meal Gap' is to give Americans – and especially policymakers – the statistical data to understand the size of the need and where it exists so we can address this issue head-on. No one in this country should go hungry, and I applaud Feeding America for the work they are doing to meet this underreported, but very real need."

A summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available at

Join the conversation about "Map the Meal Gap 2012" on Twitter using #MealGap.

About Feeding America
Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, our network members supply food to more than 37 million Americans each year, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors. Serving the entire United States, more than 200 member food banks support 61,000 agencies that address hunger in all of its forms. For more information on how you can fight hunger in your community and across the country, visit Find us on Facebook at or follow our news on Twitter at

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