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Morocco's Changing Bodies

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Morocco, Food, Health, Technology, Women & Gender, Youth

Obesity [1] and body image [2] are two topics rarely discussed in Morocco. The country, still developing in many ways, seems to have always had a healthy relationship with food; Moroccan cuisine [3], well-known around the world, uses lots of fresh meat, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil. That healthy relationship seems to be changing as in many other places in the world, as Morocco receives an influx of fast food chains and packaged products. Though some studies [4] have been performed, the subject has been rarely broached in the blogosphere, that is until now.

In a six-part series, Margot the Marrakesh Mystic looks deeper into how Moroccan bodies (and consequently, Moroccan body image) is changing. In Part one, the blogger reflects [5] on obesity and the increase of diabetes in Morocco:

According to the WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, “the percentage of overweight children in Morocco more than tripled between 1987 and 2004.” This is attributed to the dual trend of decreasing physical activity levels, and a shift in diets to include more fats and sugars. The trend of overweight children is happening far more in cities, and mostly among the middle and upper classes

I have a Moroccan friend who is an assistant in one of the classes at the local American School. Children in this school are mostly from the upper-middle and upper classes. I asked him, “Out of the 21 Moroccan children in his own class (foreigners excluded from the count), how many were overweight?“

He responded, “Five are quite fat, seven are rather chubby, but not yet obese; and the remaining nine are of normal weight.” So that means 57 percent of the class is overweight, or obese; while 43 percent are of normal weight.

While parts two and three deal with similar issues (namely, the increase in supermarkets and modern appliances in Morocco), part four deals with an interesting topic: the desire of young Moroccan women to gain weight. In this post, the blogger shares an anecdote about her younger sister:

My little sister THINKS she is too skinny (at least she’s teased by the girls at school who say she is, but they are chubby, so it’s probably jealousy). So she wears four pairs of pants under her jeans. I ask her why she is doing this, especially when it is over 100°F outside! She says it’s so that the thigh area of the jeans will not look “loose,” but filled out, and tight all around, like her friends look in their jeans. All I can say is that I remember being this age (fourteen) and how important it is at that age to dress like your friends.

Part five [6] deals with fast food restaurants in Morocco. Interestingly enough, the blogger concludes:

There were no fast-food restaurants until recently. But in my opinion, they are NOT contributing to the problem of obesity in Morocco. Instead, they have enhanced our lifestyle considerably. We want these choices available here too, as they are available in the more developed countries.

Part six, which has not yet been released, will tackle the issue of diabetes in Morocco [7], something which, while not new, is a growing problem in the country.