dimanche 11 mars 2012

A country eats well and traditionally and is not Fat: the case of Morocco

I distinctly remember, handwritten over a small Taco Bar/Resto in Merida, Mexico:
To eat well, is not a necessity, but it is a privilege.
Wherever you are in Southern Morocco, Marrakech, Essouira, Atlas Mountains, the cooking is uniformly good, whether at a posh resto or at a stop by the road, being invited for a hot cup of Mint Tea.
After a couple of days in Marrakech, happened to walk by the KFC outlet, and the smell emanating from there was nauseating indeed. There are hardly any foreign fast food outlets in Marrakech, I saw only one KFC and one Mc Do, no Starbucks… the Mint tea is so refreshing and the mint is fresh, not preserved, and a bargain at 10 dirhams (about a dollar usa). You can depend upon a good Tajine or Couscous and walking around the souk and the markets, they are full of local and seasonal vegetables. Didn't see any need for imported food, didn't even see packaged food. The central square abounds with fresh fruits, dates and other local produces, fresh orange juice to be had for 4 dirhams (40 cents American).
photos of various plates of food savoured during one week in Southern Morocco
I am an Endocrinologist, trained as an Anthropologist but you do not need that training to observe that childhood obesity is non-existent and that the people in general were not overweight. You saw some older women with some extra pounds but not once did I see an obese person. In a paper published by the Moroccan investigators and the Johns Hopkins School of Pubic Health shows
 Overall levels of obesity, identified by body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30 kg/m2, were 12.2% in Morocco and 14.4% in Tunisia. Obesity is significantly higher among women than among men in both countries (22.7% vs. 6.7% in Tunisia and 18% vs. 5.7% in Morocco) 

The absence of overweight women in the streets could be explained culturally in that; Muslim women especially the older ones tend to stay at home while men are in the streets conducting business. Morocco is a modern country and the teenagers and adolescents and young men and women were uniformly of normal weight. It is interesting to note from the paper that poor education was associated with obesity as well as migration to the urban area. One is six women was found to have a BMI over 30 where as only one in 20 men were found to be so. Most meals have high carbohydrate contents because of the liberal use of vegetables and the fat intake was not high, two thirds of the calories came from Carbohydrates.
It is interesting to note that
1/34 Moroccans in Morocco had Diabetes
(Or close to 3/100)
Where as 7 out of 100 women living in urban area of Sahraouian origin had diabetes and the figure goes up to 8/100 when Moroccans migrate to Holland, for example.
You don't have to be an Anthropologist to understand that the Diabetes can be caused by
And the emotional stress associated with plus the lifestyle changes that follow.

So, please, KFC and McDO take your businesses back to your countries, leave Morocco and Malaysia (a penchant for these fast food is becoming ingrained) alone…
The main incomes for many Moroccans are from Tourism and also remittances from abroad. Spain with ¼ of its population out of work sends far fewer tourists and there is a sizeable Moroccan community there. I was told that the poverty level in Morocco has increased in the last two years…so you can expect the obesity and diabetes to increase or would this force people to eat more traditionally? In general, the former is correct, but with the general absence of fast food restaurants and the abundance of good food easily available, with the decrease in income, we may expect a decrease in rate of obesity and diabetes in Morocco. Inshallah!