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Starting in 2010, footwear manufacturers began advertising shoes that would get you in shape and help you lose weight just by going about your daily activities.
Called toning shoes, this product available through multiple brands differed from the typical sneaker in one significant regard: a “rocker” or “rolled” bottom. The surface intentionally created instability, making the wearer work harder. Advertisements claimed they would promote weight loss, tone muscles, improve posture, reduce stress on joints, and help you burn up to eight percent more calories.
Reebok and Sketchers introduced their respective models in 2010 and were later joined by Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT), AVIA, New Balance’s True Balance, and Champion’s Pace Toning Shoe. Certain models even had endorsements from Kim Kardashian and Joe Montana.
Yet, by 2011, the Consumer Products Safety Commission reported 65 complaints associated with these shoes, including compound fractures, broken wrists, and traumatic brain injury from falls.
That same year, Consumer Reports stated these products had more injury reports than any other item in its database. As well, the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine reported that some manufacturers overstated the benefits and did not disclose the risks.
Studies further found that extended use increased the wearer’s chances of developing stress fractures in the femur and hips, shin splints, knee problems, and arch issues. Reports, as well, found the toning shoes responsible for joint injuries, ruptured tendons, and falls resulting in ankle fractures. Injuries have been severe enough to require physical therapy.
Plaintiffs started taking the manufacturers to court in 2011. That year, Reebok agreed to settle for $25 million regarding false and misleading claims.
The next year, the Federal Trade Commission filed a similar suit against Sketchers, alleging advertisements for Shape Ups misled consumers. Along with this case, 520,000 consumers were involved in a class action lawsuit, in which the manufacturer agreed to settle for $40 million.
Along with these two, New Balance paid $2.3 million for false advertising claims.
In all cases, one theme emerged: No brand can make fitness and weight loss claims in its advertisements, unless concrete scientific data backs it up. The FTC’s investigation found that Sketchers paid the doctors behind its studies, manipulated results, and cherry-picked data to support its initial claims.