Shape-Ups Letting People Down

November 17, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Nicholas Cains
ncains@smu.edu

Allie Jean Thompson, an SMU senior, was feeling a little overweight last year and decided to do something about it.

Walking through North Park Center one day, she saw a pair of shoes in a store window advertising a way for her to shed the pounds simply by walking. Those shoes were Sketcher’s Shape-Ups.

The ads claimed to help wearers burn more calories, work their legs 11 percent more, and tone their butts 28 percent more than your average athletic shoe. But Thompson wasn’t sure she was falling for it.

“To lose weight and get results you have to sweat and diet,” said Thompson, who had shed nearly 70 pounds in high school. “I’d seen them before and knew I wouldn’t be caught dead in them.”

She bought the shoes anyway, which range in price from $80 to $$120, but quickly realized that her new footwear probably wouldn’t live up to the hype. After a few months, she wasn’t seeing the results that dazzled her in the first place, and she knew exactly who to blame.

“That was my fault,” said Thompson. “Those shoes weren’t meant for that.”

Thompson then set out to lose weight like she did her freshman year in high school: By working out and eating right.

“I knew I could do it on my own,” she said.

Advertisements about the latest toning shoes, from Sketcher’s Shape-Ups to Reebok’s Easy Tone line, have recently come under fire for allegedly misleading their consumers. Holly Ward, a waitress in Ohio, sued Sketchers in February for fracturing her hip bones after five months of wear. Reebok settled a $25 million lawsuit in September for claims that Easy Tones ads were advertising false results. So the question for consumers is, “can these shoes deliver what they promise?”

“It depends on what you want the shoes to do,” says Martha Phillips, a personal trainer in Dallas who holds a Masters of Science in Human Movement.

Philips said the original “rocker shoe”, made by Masai Barefoot Technology (MBT), was introduced to her four years ago as a way to help people correct their posture. The shoe’s rounded soles kept walkers off-balance, which caused them to work harder to stand upright.

“If nobody else will teach you how to stand up straight, the shoes are a perfect fit,” said Phillips.

Phillips said the problem came when Sketchers and Reebok released their versions of the MBT, with fresh promises to match. To Phillips, ads claiming to increase weight loss and muscle tone, making you look like Kim Kardashian with no extra work, are appealing, but unrealistic.

The ads for these shoes, which were still running on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon in May of this year, are being criticized for the specific promises they make. According to one commercial, the wearer can “burn more calories, tone muscles, improve posture and reduce stress,” more than a regular sneaker just by walking.

“People don’t feel good, so they buy into the hype,” said Phillips.

The hype in the ads are also backed up by clinical studies that were discredited last year.

According to the American Council on Exercise, the first studies on the shoes were internally funded, non-peer reviewed and had questionable analyses. The A.C.E. study that followed found that walking in toning shoes made participants burn about the same amount of fat and use as much muscle as wearing regular athletic shoes.

Kenneth Clark, a doctoral student in Applied Physiology and Biomechanics at SMU, said there is not enough scientific evidence to support a claim that any athletic shoe performs better than another. To make any fair comparison, Clark said that many different types of runners in multiple shoes would need to be observed; but he has not seen a test like that yet.

“You should be skeptical of evidence given by the manufacturer,” said Clark. “Don’t be blinded by statistics.”

Despite this information, some people still want to believe their toning shoes work. Savannah Stephens, a sophomore communications major at SMU, has been wearing her Shape-Ups for two years and said they are not only comfortable, but they also make her feel athletic.

“Since I don’t work out, they make me feel like I’m doing something right,” said Stephens.

Others think that Shape-Ups keep people from actually working out. Amanda Owen, a junior dance major at SMU, said any product that claims to help you lose more weight while you keep the same routine is a rip-off.

“You could do all of those workouts on your own and save your money,” said Owen.

Phillips encourages anyone seeking a healthier lifestyle to avoid fitness fads. If you want an “itty bitty waist” like you see in the commercials, Phillips suggests dieting, exercising, and avoiding “get skinny quick” schemes.

“If it sounds too good to be true,” said Phillips “It probably is.”

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