Shoes Get Their Day in Court
If a company advertises that a product produces a health benefit and
cannot prove it does, the company may be accused of false and deceptive
advertising by the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) or by a class action suit.
If there isn’t strong evidence to support their claims, the company may have
to pay millions to settle the case.
that Tone or Not?
Two years ago I wrote an article about shoes from
Skechers and Reebok with a rocker bottom design that were claimed to tone
the body just by walking or running in them.
According to the Federal Trade Commission complaint, Reebok made
unsupported claims in ads that walking in its EasyTone shoes and running in its
RunTone running shoes strengthen and tone key leg and buttock muscles more than
regular shoes. The FTC’s complaint also
alleges that Reebok falsely claimed that walking in EasyTone footwear had been
proven to lead to 28% more strength and tone in the buttock muscles, 11% more
strength and tone in the hamstring muscles, and 11% more strength and tone in
the calf muscles than regular walking shoes.
Reebok settled with the Federal Trade Commission on the charges of
deceptive advertising and agreed to pay $25 million as part of the settlement agreement.
Skechers advertised its Shape-Ups as a fitness tool designed to
promote weight loss and tone muscles with the shoe’s curved rocker bottom
providing natural instability and causing the wearer to “use more energy with
every step.” Ads for the Resistance
Runner shoes claimed people who wear them could increase “muscle activation” by
up to 85% for posture-related muscles and 71% for one of the muscles in the
buttocks. A federal judge tentatively
approved a $40
million settlement on August 13th.
for Barefoot Runners
In July 2011 I wrote a lengthy article on the risks and
possible benefits of barefoot running.
If you are thinking about trying running barefoot or buying some flashy
“minimalist” shoes, I strongly recommend you read the article. To be successful running barefoot or in minimalist
shoes, you have to completely relearn how to run, switching from the
heel-strike that comes naturally after a lifetime in shoes to a fore-foot
strike, and strengthening your muscles and tendons to absorb the impact forces
of 90 strides per minute (5400 strides per hour) without the help of the shock
absorbing foam of a conventional running shoe.
The marketplace is full of companies who want to sell you minimalist
shoes so you can run like you’re barefoot.
The advertising of some shoe companies for barefoot running appears to
skate close to the thin ice of misleading or false claims. Here’s an example in part from an e-mail ad
for VIVOBAREFOOT shoes I received last week:
Recent Harvard research
suggests that runners with a heel-strike technique are 2x more likely to be
injured than those who forefoot strike, which is a characteristic of a skilled
Buried down in a FAQ at
the VIVOBAREFOOT website, I found this more cautious statement of the
Harvard research led by Daniel Lieberman (note especially the text I have
Lieberman was able to
hypothesize and find anecdotal evidence that forefoot or midfoot striking can
help avoid and/or mitigate repetitive stress injuries, especially stress
fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner's knee. We emphasize, however, that this hypothesis on injury has
yet to be tested and that there have been no direct studies on the efficacy of
forefoot strike running or barefoot running on injury.
A market leader in the barefoot/minimalist market segment has been
Vibram with its FiveFingers shoes.
Contrast the caveat above about the lack of direct studies of barefoot
Vibram’s unqualified claims below:
The benefits of running
barefoot have long been supported by scientific research. And there is ample
evidence that training without shoes allows you to run faster and farther with
So, with significant FiveFingers profits, it is no surprise that
Vibram is being sued in a class action lawsuit filed in the US District Court
in Massachusetts. The suit charges that
Vibram made deceptive statements about the benefits of running barefoot. Will the suit be dismissed? Will Vibram settle to make the case go
away? It’s too soon to tell.
Note: If you are considering
trying barefoot running (with or without shoes), you should read what the
scientists at the Sports Scientists blog have to say about the challenges
of switching to forefoot landing and the extreme risks of continuing to
heel strike while barefoot.