Four oversized sugar cubes sit atop the mint leaves resting at the bottom of Fatima Hasson’s tin teapot.The taste is tough to beat – the cool refreshment of mint combined with the sugar’s sappy sweetness.
But, the excessive sugar consumption in the Moroccan diet comes at a price. The rate of diabetes is high in the country and is expected to double by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.
“About one and a half million people suffer from diabetes in our country,” said Dr. Jamal Belkhadir, President of the Moroccan League for the Fight Against Diabetes, in an article he published earlier this year.
“The latest national estimates now reach nine percent for those older than 20 years,” he said.“And if we consider the age beyond 50 years, the prevalence exceeds 14 percent.”
On top of this, Dr. Belkhadir approximates that almost 50 percent of diabetics don’t know they suffer from the disease due to lack of awareness and proper screening.
“The diagnosis of diabetes is usually made on the occasion of suggestive symptoms,” he said. This means the disease often progresses before it’s treated causing other complications such as hypertension, infection and blindness.
For breakfast, Fatima offers her family sweetened tea or coffee, a baguette with butter and apricot jelly spread on top. As a side, five or six crème-filled cookies lay in a pile on the tray. It’s not her intention to serve a breakfast that lacks nutritious value, for her it’s simply what makes sense.
After 53.4 billion dirhams, about $6.5 billion, in government subsidies, sugar, flour and oil have been made cheaply available to Moroccan families.
Dr. Belkhadir believes the answer lies in educating the Moroccan public about their eating habits and the consequences those choices have on their health.
“Education should be considered, and rightly, as one of the most important pillars for the treatment and care of diabetes,” he said.
However, it may not be that simple, considering that less than 70 percent of Moroccans are literate, a percentage that drops even lower among women and in rural populations.
Creating a public that is well informed on the food choices it makes and the health consequences will take time, energy and money. With the focus of the government turned to issues like unemployment, education and health care,a food revolution doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.