Zabin Patel (WCAS 2014)
Sara Kashani (WCAS 2012)
Project: Obesity & Body Size Perception in Moroccan Women
Fellowship: John & Martha Mabie Fellowship for Global Health Research
We are walking past a security guard at Hospital Ibn Tofail, the public hospital of Marrakesh. He stands in front of the white gates, barring entry to a group of women who are waiting under the burning Moroccan sun. It is 12 o’ clock noon. As we walk through the doors, there is a large waiting area to our right – with almost every seat filled. And to our left are the patient rooms – a few with their doors open. In the third dimly lit room is a man on a bed frame, silently moaning in pain. We hear a mix of languages—Arabic, Berber, French—while the staff and patients hurry by in a rush, the same sort of rush that envelops Djeema el-Fna, the city’s main square.
According to the World Health Organization, obesity has become a worldwide epidemic,
even in developing nations that had previously seen only under-nutrition. Some places face the dual burden of a gender differential—an obesity prevalence biased towards females—potentially mediated by individual behavior, the social environment, or other personal or cultural factors. In Morocco specifically, studies have found that obesity is four times more prevalent in women than in men (Prentice, 2005). Through funding from the John & Martha Mabie Fellowship, and with support from International Program Development at Northwestern University, United for Service, and Volunteer Morocco, we studied sociocultural factors that could help explain this gendered obesity prevalence. Our findings can provide insight into an issue that is not well understood and has the potential to inform health campaigns and improve interventions for obesity.
From the people to the architecture, everything about Morocco is zwen—beautiful! Lush gardens fill the cities and historical mosques that dot the old medinas are brimful with centuries of pride. Over cups of mint tea, the locals of the villages we visited cooked us taj’in, a traditional Maghrebi—Moroccan—dish, conversed with us about our work and Bollywood films, and even invited us to an elaborate Moroccan wedding!
While in the U.S. we may turn a critical eye toward physicians and the healthcare system, in the rural health clinics we visited, the villagers looked at the doctors who volunteered with nothing less than reverence. Their gratitude touched us—even when we were not doing more than just measuring height and weight. The Moroccan people and their selfless generosity are enough to make us want to visit al-Maghreb—Morocco—again. That and also because Marrakesh has the best orange juice we’ve ever tasted.