Rabat - A study on food habits shows Moroccans are gravitating towards consuming more processed foods than healthy traditional diets.
Rabat – A study on food habits shows Moroccans are gravitating towards consuming more processed foods than healthy traditional diets.
Penn State geography researcher Bronwen Powell conducted a food research on this matter to find out the factors driving this diet shift in Morocco, Penn State University wrote on its website on Thursday.
Powell is studying food markets to analyze nutritional transition habits towards unhealthy diets, which could affect Moroccans’ health. Since Powell’s visits to different Moroccan markets, she thinks that changes in markets and the food environment are the cause of these nutritional trends.
Powell stated that people in rural areas, while having difficulties reaching rural markets, depend on the food offered in them. “In rural areas, people may ride a donkey to the nearest road, then catch a truck to the market. If people are only traveling to rural markets, then what’s in that market is what they are going to eat. Diets are very seasonal.” Therefore, these people, according to Powell, have no choice but to buy the foods for sale, whether they are healthy or unhealthy. “When people go to the market, they may not always choose to purchase healthy foods, especially if there is heavy marketing for unhealthy foods,” she said.
The researcher stressed the need for producing important foods locally due to lack of suitable infrastructure to transport highly perishable foods. “Throughout much of the developing world, there isn’t an infrastructure to ensure that highly perishable foods, such as fruits and vegetables and animal-source foods, can be transported to distant markets. So, in those contexts, those foods and nutritionally important foods may need to be produced locally.”
Powell also indicated that Moroccans are using unhealthy essential foods, including wheat and legumes. “Processed wheat flour is increasingly being used instead of whole wheat or barley flour to make bread, meat and other animal sources of protein are replacing legumes, and people are more and more favoring imported vegetables instead of traditional (wild) vegetables.”
Although wild food holds an important place within the Moroccan food practices, Powell noted that Moroccans’ demand for fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes has declined recently. “Many of the traditional foods being lost from Moroccan diets, such as whole grains, especially barley, and fruits and vegetables, are also those associated with lowering the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” Powell added.
Unhealthy diet may result in obesity
Consuming unhealthy food or undernutrition may result in health problems connected to overweight, obesity or food-related chronic diseases.
According to UN State of Food Security and Nutrition in their World 2017 report, 20.6 % of the Moroccan population over 18, were suffering from obesity in 2014.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2015 Nutrition Country Profile, 57 % of all Moroccans are overweight, 22 % are obese and Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in the same year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 16.4% of overweight and obesity was recorded for the year 2011 in Morocco. This means that obesity among Moroccan people is rapidly increasing over the years.
Powell has been studying traditional food systems for over 10 years in Morocco. Her research is mainly based on market survey data collection on the ground. She has a team of colleagues from Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, helping her in her investigation. “I have a team of research assistants in Morocco who are collecting market survey data. They go every week to the markets to ask vendors where they got their food and trace food back to its source,” Powell said.
Powell hopes, through her research’s outcome, will useful to the concerned authorities to support healthier dietary choices. “With the results of this project, I hope that we can start to have better advice for agricultural extension agents and departments or ministries of agriculture and health, to inform them about how to best ensure that markets have a diversity of healthy foods available to people,” she said.