Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shoes: A Public Health Hazard

In The Barefoot Book I compared wearing shoes to smoking cigarettes. While this is an obvious exaggeration, there is truth in the comparison: both shoes and cigarettes are unhealthy and lead to physical and functional maladies in the body.

In the 1950’s a few doctors first proposed that tobacco was a health hazard, especially Dr. Ernst L. Wynder. In a panic, the major tobacco companies set up puppet research centers in 1954 that spent more money on propaganda than medical study. Phillip Morris tried to “buy” Dr. Wynder for forty years but without success, thanks to the integrity of this great scientist. Even as late as the 1990’s the tobacco giant Brown & Williamson conducted a massive smear campaign against Dr. Jeffery Wigand, one of their executives-turned-whistle-blower on the industry’s efforts to hide the dangers of tobacco. Today, however, the risks of tobacco are common knowledge and public health has improved dramatically with the concomitant disuse of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Presently, I’m asserting that shoes are a public health hazard. As far as I can tell, shoes are responsible for at least 90% of the foot maladies we suffer from in America. While many podiatrists continue to insist that shoes are “necessary” and members of the general public jeer and mock my position (See my Mean People Suck post), they are all on the wrong side of the medical facts. Given this truth, I hope that fifty years from now most people will be going barefoot much more often than they do today.

Be ahead of the curve. Go barefoot for better health.


  1. I had lower back pain for the last five month. I kept on buying different shoes but nothing helped. Eventually I bought a pair of minimalist shoes with zero drop. My lower back pain subsided within a couple of days and I am pain free now. I started very carefully to run barefoot and I am now in training for a race event. My body accepted the change to barefoot with a few side effects, I've lost weight, I've got a better posture, I've gained core strength and my feet, knees and hips are happier than ever. Just take it slow, but your body will tell you what's right for you. One thing for sure, it is NOT shoes that your body longs for. It's the evolutionary masterpiece called (bare) feet! Enjoy!

  2. Have there been reliable studies done on foot pathology that can be used to extrapolate a correlation between shoes and the various ailments and disabilities that people complain about? I suspect the literature on the subject is not well-developed.

    It is my understanding that the movement against cigarette smoking began with studies that showed a correlation between cigarettes and disease. Direct cause and effect proof came later, but by then the anti-smoking campaign was well underway.

  3. brnyc,

    Yes. In The Barefoot Book, I provide dozens and dozens of references to the primary literature correlating footwear to foot pathologies. And yes, as with cigarettes, it is often the case that a correlation is first observed and then the *cause* of the correlation is later determined.

    1996... I agree. Our bodies long for our feet to touch the Earth!

  4. Can you put together a new study using human subjects, as has been done with barefoot running? That would really be helpful.

  5. My naive question about foot pathology studies obviously betrays the fact that I haven't read the Barefoot Book and probably should do something about that--like buy the book.

  6. brnyc... It's a really good book... I highly recommend it. ;-) Your question wasn't naive at all. Fortunately, there *is* a lot of science out there that supports barefoot is best for the feet and body.

  7. I appreciate the information presented on here. So, I wonder what the solution is, should we stop wearing shoes? Wouldn't it hurt our feet or even make us sick?
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  8. Sophie,
    The answers to your questions are YES and NO.

    Yes, the solution is to stop wearing shoes all day every day as is the current habit of almost everyone. Shoes should be used on our feet the way gloves are used on our hands - for protection in extreme conditions, not for fashion or all day, every day use. It would incredibly unhealthy to wear gloves 15 hours a day every day, but wearing shoes every day is even worse than that because of the way they change walking biomechanics.

    No, going barefoot does not hurt and will not make you sick. Indeed, going barefoot will likely make you sick less often. Going barefoot hurts only those who have extremely tender feet from excessive shoe use; once your feet toughen you can walk comfortably on virtually any surface.

    I give much more thorough answers in The Barefoot Book. :)

  9. Heels? How can women wear this? It breaks the entire structure of the foot( I am glad that I didn't have this practice. My hobby is now walking barefoot and herbal medicines - CBD oil is a recent invention. It heals pain very well, but has no complicated side effects. I always carry it with me.


Welcome to The Barefoot Professor blog, intelligent talk about running, walking and living barefoot. I encourage your comments, even if you disagree with me. In this spirit I don't even moderate the comments. However, PLEASE use critical thinking skills when leaving comments, and avoid inflammatory words. Please keep your comments short and to-the-point. THANKS.