Reebok has been ordered to pay up to $25 million in consumer refunds in a settlement agreement that was reached Sept. 28, with the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC filed a complaint against Reebok for its alleged use of deceptive advertising within the company’s ad campaign for the EasyTone footwear line, according to the FTC’s website.
“In order to avoid a protracted legal battle, Reebok has chosen to settle with the FTC. Settling does not mean we agreed with the FTC’s allegations, we do not,” according to a statement released by Reebok.
The EasyTone footwear products were able to tone gluteus muscles and give customers a workout simply by wearing the shoes, according to claims made in the advertisements released by Reebok.
Reebok claimed that the shoes had been proven to lead to 28 percent more strength and tone in the buttock muscles and 11 percent more strength and tone in the hamstring and calf muscles than regular walking shoes.
The FTC complaint stated that Reebok did not have actual scientific data to support these claims and instead used, “junk science,” according to the FTC.
“The FTC wants national advertisers to understand that they must exercise some responsibility and ensure that their claims for fitness gear are supported by sound science,” Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection David Vladeck said.
The American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that certifies personal trainers, asked the University of Wisconsin to conduct an independent study analyzing the effects of the unstable design of toning shoes.
This came as a result of the claims made by Sketchers, MBT and Reebok, as each advertisement “cited their own studies ‘proving’ the results one can expect from wearing their shoes,” as stated on the council’s website.
The results of the study concluded that, “There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone,” according to UW’s study.
The FTC website suggests that consumers conduct their own research before purchasing exercise gear that claims to provide the same benefits as a workout, without the act of physically working out.
“If they (the companies) can make money, then they will do it. If they promise something, they (consumers) will try it,” said Lisa Martin, fitness coordinator for the CSU-Pueblo Student Recreation Center. “As with every other hype, people are not going to get away from exercise and making healthy choices.”
The settlement prohibits Reebok from making percentage claims about the benefits of the toning footwear line, and claims of health or fitness benefits that result from use of the shoes, “unless the claims are true and backed by scientific evidence,” according to the FTC.
The shoe’s instable design may have caused injury to wearers. “Doctors warn that toning shoes create their advertised benefit by destabilizing how a person walks and say that wearing the shoes can resulted in strained Achilles tendons,” according to USA Today.
“They do more damage than help people,” said Gino Mangino, an employee of the SRC. “People need lighter shoes that have good arch and ankle support from brands like Nike or Saucony.”
Masai Barefoot Technology is another company that has designed footwear aimed to produce natural instability for the wearer.
However, the shoes do not make any claims for increasing muscle strength, but instead claim that the shoes improve posture, according to the MBT’s website. Consumers have mixed feelings with these shoes as some have attributed broken arms to the shoes, while others have had a positive experience using them.
In earlier decades, fashion trends incidentally created shoes that toned muscles while a person walked.
“In the 70s, people wore the Earth Shoe. These shoes had tips that were higher than the shoe so it’d tone the calf muscles,” said Jack Krider, director of the SRC.
Employees at the SRC recommend that those wishing to improve muscle strength and lose weight should consider healthier lifestyles and regular exercise, coupled with footwear that will enhance, not take the place, of a workout.