False Toning Shoe Claims Carry Heavy Consequences for Top Shoe Manufacturers
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by Shane Hayes, C.Ped.

Pedorthists should be particularly wary of promoting health claims made by companies that produce "rocker” shoes. This caution is a particularly timely one, since the Federal Trade Commission recently levied a $25 million fine against Reebok to settle charges that the company’s false rocker shoe claims deceived consumers. These claims, which touted false benefits that customers would experience once they wore the shoes, such as more toned thighs and glutes, were not supported by sound science. 

The FTC’s complaint focused on very specific claims Reebok made in ads that promoted the company’s EasyTone footwear. More specifically, the ads claimed that wearing the shoes would lead to "28 percent more strength and tone in the buttock muscles, 11 percent more strength and tone in the hamstring muscles and 11 percent more strength and tone in the calf muscles than regular walking shoes.”

Similar claims, also not backed by sound science, have been made by other shoe companies that produce rocker shoes, including MBT, Alegria, Cogent, Ryn, Skechers, Cambrian, New Balance, Clarks, Merrell, Dansko, Ariat and Aravon & Chung Shi, to name a few. While this new rocker shoe trend is the biggest fad to hit the footwear market since wave bottoms, platforms, Crocs, Heelys or flip-flops, it is the only recent shoe trend that has made toning or medical claims.

Several pedorthic facilities’ websites echoed these claims, and pedorthists should take caution when repeating the so-called benefits of these rocker shoes. While the government would generally go after larger companies with deeper pockets, there is a possibility that they may also seek out pedorthic facilities that promote rocker shoes without the sound science to back up their claims.

In terms of sound scientific proof, a recent study by The American Council on Exercise put the toning shoes to the test. They recruited subjects; laced them up in EasyTones, Shape-ups and MBTs; and put them on treadmills. Then, researchers used electromyography to measure the muscle activation in subjects’ calves, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, backs and abs. The researchers found no significant increase in muscle activity when comparing toners to normal sneakers. "There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone," the report found.

However, custom rockers, which fall into a separate category from toning shoes, have benefits supported by a fair amount of scientific testing, making them a viable pedorthic modality to use. Perhaps the real benefit of toning shoes is to have at least motivated a few more folks to exercise more.

Since a real possibility exists that the FTC may examine false claims made by pedorthists who sell the rocker shoes, be sure to carefully review your company’s website and any printed material you distribute to ensure there are no statements pertaining to your pedorthic practice that have over-reached in making claims to the public.
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