The following is re-produced from an article in the Peterlee Star on September 25th 2013. The author, David Taylor-Gooby, and his brother Peter, joined Adventure Alternative for a summer trek in the Moroccan High Atlas, including an ascent to its highest point, Jebel Toubkal.
As you may know from the Star I have been in Morocco most of last week, so this article is an attempt to make some observations about health as a result of the expedition. I am not sure about the effects on my health, but I did manage to climb Mount Toubkal, and I want to thank all those who sponsored me.
When I go on an expedition like this, I feel like the lines of Keats recently popularised by the BBC, “Much have I travelled in the realms of gold…… silent upon a peak in Darien”. But when I come back down to earth, several points relating to health stand out when visiting a country less well developed than our own.
Average life expectancy in Morocco is 72, according to the World Health Organisation. That compares with 80 for the UK and 79 for America. It is well ahead of central and southern Africa. You notice that public health in terms of plumbing, toilets and clean water is much worse than in this country. You see fresh meat being carried through the streets on a warm day. But on the other hand you notice that most Moroccans, including the elderly, are thinner than we are. They eat far less processed food. Fresh products are sold in markets, and fresh bread is baked every day. And, of course, most of them do not drink alcohol.
So should we sit back on our laurels and think that the answer for Morocco’s health to improve is to become like us? I saw another piece of literature about health last week, Professor Lieberman’s book “The Story of the human Body, Evolution, Health and Disease” in which he argues that our modern lifestyles and food consumption are becoming more likely to cause cancer. He argues that the body will naturally put on excess weight if it can so that it has a reserve for leaner times. Unfortunately we never encounter those leaner times nowadays , so the fat stays with us. The answer as we all know, is a healthier diet and more exercise. So we may not stay ahead of the game in terms of life expectancy for ever.
Progress is not one-sided. We can teach countries like Morocco much about hygiene and preventing disease, but in terms of lifestyles we could learn from them. If we ate more locally produced fresh food we would probably be healthier.
Incidentally, if you want to improve your own health, I would recommend a trekking holiday. There are all sorts of varieties of expeditions, and it is a unique experience. Look at organisations like “Adventure Alternative” which I can certainly recommend.
David Taylor-Gooby is a Lay Member of the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Commissioning Group. He writes in a personal capacity.
David and Peter have between them published a number of books dealing with social policy. You can see some of them on Amazon.