There has been a lot of interest in the blogosphere about the settlements with the Federal Trade Commission in the USA and the number of class action law suits filed against brands in the fitness or exercise shoe category of footwear. Reebok settled with the FTC for $25 million. Skechers are facing a number of class action suits and just settled with the FTC for $40 million. Vibram Five Fingers are facing a class action case. None of the class action cases have been settled yet and both Reebok and Skechers are still denying any liability but settled with the FTC to avoid protracted hearings and the uncertainty associated with that. Vibram FiveFingers have indicated that they will vigorously defend the class action.
While there are always the issues of where does personal responsibility start and finish in these situations and the use of common sense in using any fitness product, all the cases have one thing in common. They all are based around the claims in advertising made for the health benefits of using the product. Unless you have the evidence to back up those health claims, then you are possibly going to be on shaky grounds. For example there is no doubt that the toning shoes (ie MBT’s, Reebok and Skechers) have biomechanical effects and those biomechanical effects have been demonstrated. The problems arise when you start to speculate and claim about the health benefits of those biomechanical changes when there are no clinical trials that demonstrate that (the health benefits may or may not be the case, but it is the evidence that matters). It is the same with the Vibram Five Finger, in that they usually change the running technique from rearfoot striking to forefoot striking and there is no doubt about that. However, there is certainly a lack of evidence to show that there is a health benefit from that (there may or may not be, but there is no evidence from clinical trials). So footwear manufacturers are going to be on shaky grounds if they claim health benefits and do not have the data to back it up.