Hunger Counties:

Methodological Review of a Report by the Physician Task Force on Hunger

PEMD-86-7BR: Published: Mar 18, 1986. Publicly Released: Mar 18, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated a Physician Task Force on Hunger in America report, which included a list of the 150 U.S. counties with the highest incidence of hunger, to determine: (1) its technical soundness; (2) the strength of its conclusions; and (3) the data and methods used as identifiers.

The task force undertook the study in an attempt to: (1) document the distribution of counties with the worst poverty and poorest food stamp participation; (2) quantify the hunger gap in the counties by comparing the need of the nation's poorest families and the food stamp assistance actually provided to them; and (3) establish a basis for analyzing barriers to more effective program use. GAO found that the task force: (1) designated counties high in poverty and low in food stamp participation as hunger counties; (2) estimated the number of county residents eligible for food stamps based on Census Bureau poverty data; (3) used a standard method of measuring the incidence of poverty in U.S. counties; (4) compared monthly participation in the program with annual eligibility, resulting in serious inaccuracies; (5) did not report on the level of food stamp participation in the low-poverty counties; and (6) combined the poverty and food stamp participation indicators to estimate hunger distribution in U.S. counties. GAO expressed doubts about the overall method used in determining geographic distribution of hunger because the participation indicator: (1) did not account for assets in the definition of eligibility; (2) used a relative, rather than an absolute indicator; (3) inconsistently combined monthly and yearly data; and (4) needed to be adjusted for changes between 1979 and 1984. GAO noted that the indirect measurement of hunger through indicators of poverty and food stamp participation may not present an accurate picture of the geographic distribution of hunger problems.

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