Food and Farm Economy / Physical Activity and Health

The Data Behind Food Security in West Virginia

Photo by West Virginia FoodLink.

Photo by West Virginia FoodLink.

Low-income and rural residents in 42 percent of West Virginia census blocks experience low to very low access to a grocer that stocks adequate fresh foods.

Research by West Virginia University has found that 539,911 West Virginians – 29.3 percent of the state’s population – reside in areas that have low to extremely low access to quality foods.

Having identified a need for relevant and useful information on food access in the state, since the spring of 2013 West Virginia FoodLink, a project of West Virginia University’s Food Justice Laboratory, has been compiling data on the topic.

FoodLink developed a hub of resources on food access in West Virginia and launched a website – foodlink.wvu.edu – to house publically accessible research and aid community food initiatives with meaningful, effective planning.

FoodLink’s access map is broken down by census block and the access rating of each census block is calculated utilizing the following factors: the quality of retailers, the quantity of retailers, median household income, and vehicle access.

Each census block is then given a score between 0 and 4. A score of 0 would indicate that a community has no food retailers, low median incomes, and low vehicle access. A score of 4 would indicate that an area has a variety of retailers with high quality foods, high median incomes and high vehicle access.

Low-income and rural residents in 42 percent of West Virginia census blocks experience low to very low access to a grocer that stocks adequate fresh foods.

The Green Grocer, Alderson. Photo by Alderson Community Food Hub.

The Green Grocer, Alderson. Photo by Alderson Community Food Hub.

Of the 2,160 SNAP and WIC retailers total throughout the state, only 560 currently stock fresh produce.

Convenience stores and small box retailers, such as Dollar General and CVS, make up 76 percent of West Virginia’s food options. Big box retailers and grocery stores, like Walmart and Krogers, tend to be geographically located in cities with higher incomes. Foodlink’s research supports the hypothesis that access to healthy food is an issue that disproportionately affects low-income and rural families.

There are currently more than 2,000 certified SNAP retailers in the state, but only 294 WIC retailers. WIC provides benefits to pregnant and breastfeeding women to help them buy nutritional food at approved retailers. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, provides credits for low-income people to purchase healthy food at approved retailers.

However, most WIC-eligible retailers are big box or grocery stores, which remain concentrated in towns with larger populations, higher incomes, and lower overall WIC participation rates.

Of the 2,160 SNAP and WIC retailers total throughout the state, only 560 currently stock fresh produce.

West Virginia FoodLink suggests that the growing number of independently owned grocers throughout West Virginia may provide inroads to cultivating more access to healthy food options.

Who To Talk To:

West Virginia FoodLink
Email: Food Justice Lab Director, Bradley Wilson

Related Content:

Nourishing Network: West Virginia Food Security Assessment

Inside Appalachia: What Happens When Walmart Closes in One Coal Community

The Hub: Alderson Provides a Helping Hand to New Whitesville Grocery Store

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