Sweat drips down the face of a woman as she shuffles between exercise machines and pauses to greet passersby in Soweto’s first outdoor gym, a new trend in South Africa, one of the world’s fattest nations.
The facility, set in a park among tiny two-bedroom homes, has caught on with many Sowetans who are determined to lose the flab without signing expensive gym contracts.
Opened by the Johannesburg City Council a month ago, the gym has seen people of all ages pumping iron and using its contraptions to target problem fat.
“Joining a gym has never ever crossed my mind, but this place has made things much easier for me because it is close to my house and free,” 37-year-old Chichi Mofokeng said.
“I can simply walk here anytime. Doctors have repeatedly told me to lose weight and get healthy, so this is my chance,” said the enthusiastic mother of two, who weighs 90kg.
Unlike Brazil, Britain, the US and some other countries, outdoor gyms in South Africa are not common, despite the pressing need to tackle the increasing obesity rates.
Last year, the city of Cape Town unveiled its first outdoor gym on the beach front, catering to residents of affluent suburbs along the Atlantic seaboard. The city is considering opening more free gyms in other areas to promote physical health.
In some studies, South Africa could soon overtake the US as the world’s fattest nation. In 2007, the Medical Research Council found that 56 percent of adult women and 29 percent of adult men in South Africa were overweight or obese.
Another study by a pharmaceutical company in 2010 revealed that 61 percent of the country’s 50 million people were obese, trailing only the US and Britain.
Health authorities blame the easy access to unhealthy fast foods, with an assortment of outlets available in almost all public places, as well as a decline in overall fitness levels.
Soweto, which has a 1.7 million population, never had a gym until Virgin Active, the chain owned by British mogul Richard Branson, opened in December last year.