Skip to main content

WVU nutrition and public health experts discuss food deserts, ways to help

A volunteer holds a handful of small, almost ripe tomatoes in her hand.

WVU experts explain just how close to home food deserts — locations with limited access to or absence of access to nutritional foods — can be found in West Virginia and meaningful ways to help people living in them. (WVU Photo)

Download full-size

In this giving season, West Virginia University experts are drawing attention to food deserts close to home and offering meaningful ways to help close the gaps.  

Nettie Freshour, human nutrition and foods teaching associate professor in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is an expert on food deserts and conducts research concerning their effects on public health and ways they could be eradicated.

WVU Extension Public Health Specialist Kristin McCartney, who also works as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education coordinator for Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, supports counties across the state with public health outreach that aims to increase accessibility of healthy foods for rural communities.


“There’s more to a food desert than having no food at all. It’s the accessibility to food and the accessibility to decent food. In some places, you may have one option for a grocery store. If it’s very small or the produce is not good quality or it’s expensive, it doesn’t allow the individuals who live in that community to choose the best foods. So, they end up choosing canned green beans or canned peaches as opposed to fresh foods.

“Another factor that contributes to food deserts is availability. That means a person is able to walk there or use reliable public transportation. However, you have to think about how often it runs and how much can you actually carry onto a city bus and then from that bus stop to your home. In a food desert, you have to heavily prioritize your needs.

“Food deserts tend to affect people who are already at the short end of the stick. It’s not just geography we’re dealing with. It’s a systemic issue, like with any form of inequality. The system creates a cyclical pattern for people born in an impoverished area and they’re affected by these issues the most. Even with the charitable season, people who live in food deserts still have the same inequities regardless of the time of the year that it is.

“The city of Westover is considered a food desert. It makes you think about how many more food deserts there are across the state when there is one so close to Morgantown. Monongalia County isn’t even considered an in-need county.” – Nettie Freshour, teaching associate professor, director of dietetics program, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

“Addressing the issues of food deserts will take time. In the short term, you can donate to a food bank and participate in canned food drives. There are many things people in communities can do to increase food access in the long run, too. In the broader, longer term issue of food deserts, you can advocate for different policies that may attract grocery stores or that support a farmers market. That’s another way to get local food economies going. A lot of it comes down to policies and supporting people who grow and distribute food locally.” – Kristin McCartney, associate professor, public health specialist and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education coordinator, WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVUToday.



Communications Specialist
WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

Call 1-855-WVU-NEWS for the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday.