I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s all over the news. People are finally
beginning to come around to that inconvenient truth about our feet,
that dirty little secret that shoe companies would prefer to keep
under wraps: barefoot is better.
There has been media coverage of the barefoot trend in the past,
mostly intermittent, in running magazines and always taking a patronizing
tone. It follows the same formula: more idle speculation on a bizarre
fad that a select few crazies are promoting, with plenty of “balance”
from stuffy foot specialists expressing doubt that the inherently
fragile, gentle human foot could ever withstand the rigors of walking
unshod without “serious injury,” than any serious consideration
of the merits. But now we’ve got a nice, juicy study to hang our
hats (or our shoes) on, and media outlets are falling over themselves
to get the scoop.
in question was Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman’s
on “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot
versus shod runners.” (See comparison videos below. The difference
between shod heel strike running and barefoot forefoot strike running
is visually and graphically captured. For more on what you're seeing
check out NPR's
coverage.) It’s hard to believe that this is the first study
of its kind, though, probably because it actually isn’t. Last year,
ran a similar study and decided that “Footwear Alters Normal
Form and Function of the Foot” by exerting acute pressure to sensitive
areas of the foot, whereas barefoot walkers enjoyed wider forefeet
and more evenly distributed locomotive stress. Interesting, but
probably because it didn’t make any bold pronouncements and because
it dealt with the relatively mundane act of walking (rather than
running), the study didn’t get any press. They could have recommended
people throw off their shoes, but that wouldn’t be prudent.
It wouldn’t be responsible. I can’t fault them for that, really.
Researchers need funding, and you don’t want to make bold pronouncements
if it means getting cut off or reprimanded. Unfortunately, scientists
need to be bold to effect real change.