The funny looking five-toed barefoot running shoes have been promoted as the next best thing since bottled water for runners, but it appears there was more marketing than science behind the numerous health benefits that were claimed. The manufacturer of the popular FiveFinger Shoes, Vibram USA Inc., has just agreed to shell out $3.75 million to customers who purchased the shoes after March 2009.
Valerie Bezdek filed a lawsuit against Vibram in March 2012 in Massachusetts, where the minimalist running shoe maker is based. The Wall Street Journal reports the basis of the class-action suit is that “the company profited from unsubstantiated claims the shoes strengthen muscles and prevent injury.”
According to Runner’s World:
“Bezdek alleged that Vibram deceived consumers by advertising that the footwear could reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles, without basing those assertions on any scientific merit. ‘The gist of her claim is that Vibram illegally obtained an economic windfall from her because it was only by making false health claims that Vibram induced consumers to buy FiveFingers shoes, and to pay more for them than they would have otherwise,’ Harvard Law School professor, John C. P. Goldberg, told Runner’s World at the time of the original filing.”
The barefoot running fad was popularized by Chris McDougal in his book Born to Run, an epic account of runners that took the author to the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, “arguably the greatest distance runners in the world.” Runners fixated on the concept of running barefoot, which was the subject of his chapter 25, a section that he almost left out. According to McDougal, the point was not so much that barefoot running is fabulous as it was a challenge of the conventional dogma of the benefits of running shoes. Humans were born with feet, without shoes, so he maintains that “really the burden of proof is on the running shoe.”
Vibram took the concept and ran with it, making all sorts of health claims for the barefoot running shoes that the lawsuit maintains are not backed up scientifically. Vibram denies any wrongdoing.
The shoes typically sold for $80 to $120 a pair, and people were willing to pay a premium for the footwear that was the holy grail of running shoes – all the benefits of being barefoot, with the protection against glass, gravel, and bubble gum that ordinary shoes offer.
Skeptics have been around since the beginning of the barefoot renaissance. According to a piece in The Inquisitr in 2011, “the bottom line was that researchers probing the topic discovered both significant benefits and significant downsides to the practice.”
Now that the trend is fizzling out, buyers may be entitled to a refund. The maximum payout per pair of shoes is $94, but it appears that most customers will receive between $20 and $50.
But don’t be so quick to get rid of those barefoot running shoes just yet. There may be another use for them yet, according to Men’s Fitness — weight lifting. The barefoot shoes decrease the distance between the lifter and the floor, which is a good thing, and a “new niche that FiveFinger shoes could fit into.” Though I really wouldn’t know, it actually makes sense. It IS harder to pick things up off of the floor when toting a heavy toddler if you have on high heels. What do you think?
[images via bing]