Rural counties hardest hit by hunger

U. ILLINOIS (US) — In the U.S., 44 mostly rural, mostly African-American counties fall into the top 10 percent for both food insecurity and food prices.

In addition, in those counties, 27 percent of the population live at or below the poverty line.

“These counties struggle with multiple stressors, including high food insecurity, high poverty, high unemployment, and above-average food costs,” says Craig Gundersen, associate professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois.

An analysis of data identifying county-level distribution of more than 50 million food-insecure Americans is detailed in a new study, Map the Meal Gap.

“Until now, we could only compare the data by state,” Gundersen says. “Having this data by county has the potential to redefine the way service providers and policy makers address areas of need.”

“Meal gap” refers to the additional number of meals the food insecure population in the selected area requires to meet their food needs. On the national level, the average cost of a meal is $2.54. This shortfall represents an estimated $21.3 billion on an annual basis.

“Per person this is only about $56 more each month on average to address the shortages in their food budget,” Gundersen says.

The study also demonstrates the distribution of food-insecure persons who are not eligible for food assistance programs. In Illinois, for example, 41 percent of the almost 2 million people who are identified as being food insecure are also ineligible to receive federal assistance from The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.)

The report features additional information detailing how Latinos and American Indians are disproportionately affected by high rates of hunger and high food prices.

“In order to address the problem of hunger in our communities, we have to understand it,” Gundersen says. “The results from Map the Meal Gap will help researchers to better identify the populations and develop strategies to reach those who are most in need of food assistance.”

The study was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Nielsen Co.

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