If you’re an avid or occasional runner you’re likely aware of the lawsuit Vibram settled for $3.75M earlier this month. The class action lawsuit alleges that Vibram, one of the biggest manufacturers of barefoot running shoes, made false claims about the health benefits of its FiveFingers running shoes.
In January of this year I posted about barefoot running. There is a debate on whether there are benefits to running with or without shoes. There are good points on both sides of the fence. Some say it’s dangerous and hard on the joints to run barefoot, but it’s also hard on the joints to run with shoes on too. Regardless of if you’re running or not there is benefit to going barefoot. There are exercises that strengthen your feet. I know, I had to do them after foot surgery. And as one of the 70 million Americans who purchased Vibram’s shoes, I even did a review on them.
I will still continue to run barefoot using barefoot running shoes because there are two separate issues at play. First, the issue of barefoot running is actually about running without any shoes whatsoever and the benefits, if there are any. Every body is different so what works for one person may not work for another. I’ve seen people running without shoes on and they seemed perfectly content. The second issue is about the claims Vibram made about it’s shoes. It essentially took the speculated benefits of barefoot running and applied them to their shoes. I work in an FDA-regulated industry where people do tons of testing before making product claims. If Vibram didn’t have the data to back up their claims then it could be considered false advertising.
I’m not throwing out the baby with the bath water. I like the Vibram shoes but not because of the proclaimed health benefits. Perhaps that’s because I came across Vibram as I was researching barefoot running and not the other way around. I choose them because at the time they were the only company that had them. Even in my review I kept the focus on the functionality of the shoe. I’m not sure I even recall that there were claims made about them. I simply didn’t want to run with nothing on my feet at all and these seemed like a great alternative. By the way, barefoot-like running has worked well for me. When I first started I was really off-balance. Now I don’t feel lower back discomfort like I do with think-sole shoes and no calf pain. However, I don’t run in them on back-to-back days as that did prove to be a bit much for me.
This is not to defend Vibram’s actions or to vilify them for that matter. We as consumers have to cut through the marketing rhetoric to get to what’s real. If a mere shoe could do all they claimed everyone would be wearing them. Also, Vibram is doing something various other companies do and that’s make broad sweeping statements about their products. The term “all natural” is great example of marketing that companies are allowed to get away with to sell more product. There is no guidelines regarding the use of “all natural” on food products. I look at this way, I use a hammer to build a house. It’s a tool and so are the shoes. I no more expect the shoes to whip me into better shape than I expect the hammer to build my house for me.
In the end, I’m still a fan of the shoe. What do you think? We want to hear from you. Like, share and comment below.
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