April 2012

Class action lawsuit alleges deceptive claims about barefoot-simulating shoes

Concord, MA-based Vibram USA was named in late March as the defendant in a class action lawsuit filed in the US District Court in Massachusetts that alleged the company made deceptive claims about health benefits of its FiveFingers running footwear. The civil complaint reported plaintiffs’ claims exceed $5 million.

The complaint alleged that Vibram used “an extensive, comprehensive, and uniform nationwide marketing campaign” to claim the FiveFingers footwear, which has a pod for each toe, will “provide all the health benefits of barefoot running” and that running in FiveFingers “improves posture and foot health, reduces risk of injury, strengthens muscles in feet and lower legs, and promotes spine alignment.”

There is no good scientific evidence to support these claims and FiveFingers footwear has not been proven to confer any benefits beyond those of conventional running, the complaint alleged. It cited the American Podiatric Medical Association’s (APMA) position on barefoot running as evidence of Vibram’s deceptive advertising practices.

The APMA statement on its website reads, “While anecdotal evidence and testimonials proliferate on the Internet and in the media about the possible health benefits of barefoot running, research has not yet adequately shed light on the immediate and long term effects of this practice.”
The suit also cited scientific research that has shown a need for runners to change their foot strike from a rearfoot to a forefoot strike pattern to adapt safely to unshod running, a gait adaptation some runners can never achieve.

The complaint document also noted that Tomlinson, the branding company behind the FiveFingers ad campaign, reported sales of the footwear have increased 300% a year since 2006 and were approaching $70 million in 2011.

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