Priya Seetal 

Over the past two years, the sugar industry has installed eight (8) outdoor gyms for rural communities in the sugarbelt regions (located in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga) of South Africa.

The outdoor gyms have contributed immensely to the creation of a culture of exercising and keeping fit among young and old people in these communities. This is in keeping with the sugar industry’s longstanding commitment to promote exercising and healthy lifestyles. 

Physical activity is crucial to maintain good health and these gyms provide a conducive environment to do so in rural areas where access to exercise equipment is scarce and not freely available. Physical activity has many benefits – it prevents weight gain by burning of the extra calories that our bodies do not need and would have turned into fat. It also controls blood sugar and blood pressure and has been known to relieve stress.

Millers (South African Sugar Millers’ Association) and growers (South African Cane Growers’ Association and South African Farmers Development Association) were helpful and instrumental in assisting the South African Sugar Association (SASA) identify sites where the outdoor gyms are erected. The feedback from beneficiaries, government councillors, health officials and other stakeholders has been nothing short of phenomenal.

KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, has made SASA’s outdoor gym initiative an integral part of his department’s health programme. The gyms have been hailed as something of a game-changer in terms of inculcating the culture of keeping fit. Promotion of physical activity is part of government’s strategy to prevent and control obesity. 

The partnership between SASA and the provincial Department of Health with regards to outdoor gyms is one of the highly regarded areas of cooperation for the benefit of the citizens in the province. In light of the current hypersensitivity on the role of sugar in obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the sponsorship of outdoor gyms has proven to be irrefutable proof of the industry’s commitment to the prevention and management of obesity and NCDs.

Priya Seetal

Priya Seetal is Nutrition Manager at SASA